It’s National Iced Tea Day, and that the most consumed beverage in the world, tea creates a new subcategory in the RTD market for alcoholic beverages; hard tea is on the rise.
Last year in the United States, the volume of hard tea products grew by 25.9 percent, as reported by IWSR Market analysis of beverages. But is that enough to compete with the growing market for hard seltzers?
Shannon Edgar, founder of Stormalong Cider draws the comparison with hard cider for reference. “Angry Orchard has been the dominant brand in hard cider since Boston Beer really decided to invest and grow the brand around 2014,” he says, submitting that Angry Orchard is hard cider, what the Twisted brand is hard tea.
In 2001, Twisted Tea released their original hard tea, and since then, the market has seen some innovation; Twisted Tea currently owns 90 percent of the market share. Although tough seltzer brands like White Claw, Truly and Bud Light Seltzer have released hard tea seltzers to compete in the new category, it is specialty brands like Loverboy, Owl’s Brew and Crook & Marker to Drizly Recognized as the fastest growing crispy tea product brands year after year.
Edgar returns to the cider analogy: “As consumers became more interested in the cider category, they sought additional styles and brands, and the taste evolved.” Edgar says this is what is currently happening with hard tea as regional brands break into the market and “chip away” market shares from national brands. Stormalong Cider is among these niche brands as they ventured into the hardcore area this month with the release of Vital sign nitro hard tea. The brand experimented with nitrogen formation to give a slightly effervescent, but with a different mouthfeel than the bubbling nature of seltzer, Edgar explains.
After three consecutive summers with tough seltzer dominating the market –Business of Business reports that the number of hard seltzer brands increased from 10 brands in early 2018 to more than 100 brands today—This summer, it seems that brands are responding to consumer demand for something other than a new sparkling drink.
“There’s a point where younger consumers get a little ‘seltzered-out’ but still want a light liquid,” says Matt O’Neill, senior sales and marketing director for Cisco Brewers. The New England-based beer brand released their range of hard teas in late May in response to younger legitimate drinking age consumers looking for something “fun, tasty and easy to drink,” explains O’Neill. He adds: “To really challenge the range of hard seltzer, we need to be true to what makes tea so enjoyable – and that’s the smooth, refreshing tea taste.” Therefore, Cisco Hard Tea is zero carbonation and the use of real tea.
Owl’s Brew co-founders, Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield, say it’s this taste, and the popularity of non-alcoholic tea, which provides a “huge opportunity” for the category of hard tea. The brand released their new jasmine flavor this summer along with Matcha with hints of pineapple and chamomile as well as white tea, raspberry and watermelon. “As we have seen with hard seltzers, consumers are looking for a better experience for their alcoholic beverages, and hard tea is no exception,” say Ripps and Littlefield, who emphasize the category’s development to include options lower in sugar and calories, but also made from whole real ingredients.
The trend with better drinks is something Jiant, the hard kombucha company, is well versed in. Therefore, they released their rendition of handmade hard tea last month in three varieties: Keemun Black Tea, Jade Oolong and Pu-erh tea. “There’s a lot of room in the new room with hard tea, as most beverages under this umbrella are either of the natural flavor variety black or look like older malt-based hard teas filled with sugar,” says Larry Haertel Jr. and Aaron Telch, founders of Jiant. “Consumers today are so curious and knowledgeable about where their food and beverages come from, and are thirsty for what’s new.”
Canadian brand Naked drinks found success with their hard teas in peach, lemon and raspberry over the last two years. In July, they launch their stateide teas after a year of introducing American consumers to their vodka-based seltzer brand under the same name. The Nude team shares that they tested over 500 formulations before landing on the final recipe, which is created with decaffeinated black tea leaves and zero carbonation at 100 calories and sugar, sweetener and carbohydrate.
“To catch up with the hard seltzer craze, hard tea must be just as varied and offer an abundance of flavors, a lighter, crispy taste that is easy to drink and an ABV similar to that of a hard seltzer,” says Nude Beverages- team and underscores O’Neill and Edgar’s feelings about carbon dioxide. Edgar adds, “It would be good to make the category of hard tea more about tea. Most of the deals out there are more about sugar and alcohol with tea as an afterthought. ”
If hard tea continues on this path, the IWSR predicts that the category will grow further by 46.4 percent in volume between 2021 and 2025.