The ready to dirnk (RTD) sector in the US has seen sharp growth over the last few years, with the ever-increasing popularity of hard seltzers. A Bord Bia report published last year showed that the hard seltzer market in the US was valued at $550m in mid-2019, with continued growth anticipated at a projected value of $2.5bn by 2021.

Following the category’s success in the US, the Irish drinks market has also seen an increase in hard seltzer brands with the release of new ranges from Irish drinks producers. In December of last year, Bulmers Ireland announced the launch of Ireland’s first premium, naturally produced hard seltzer; Seven Summits. Produced in association with Whitewater Brewing Company, Seven Summits is low-carb, low-calorie, gluten-free and vegan friendly, with an ABV of 4.5%.

We caught up with Karl Donnelly, Bulmers Ireland Director of Brand Marketing, to find out more about the Seven Summits range and how Irish consumers are reacting to hard seltzers.

On the collaboration with White Water Brewing Company, Karl shares: “Bulmers Ireland has an existing relationship with Whitewater Brewing Company, we have a minority stake in the business as well as distributing their range of craft beer offerings on the island of Ireland.”

The Seven Summits range is currently available in three flavours; Wild Berry, Lemon and Mango. “We did a thorough assessment of the competitive offerings that had launched earlier in 2020, combined with a series of taste tests internally, as well as a number of consumer panels. Each brand tends to launch with three flavour options from a citrus offering at one end to a sweeter flavour at the other end of the spectrum. The good thing is that the team at Whitewater has several further flavours we are considering for 2021.”

2020 was the breakout year for hard seltzers in Ireland, looking at how Irish consumers have reacted to the sector, Karl said: “A number of younger consumers appeared to have knowledge of the category, probably driven by the success it has had in the US. It did gain strong traction over the summer months with category sales in ROI rising to over €500K in June, July and August (Source: Nielson). In addition, the Off-Trade Multiples appeared to back the category providing significant shelf space.”

“Our Target Audience is aged 21-35, split down the middle 50/50 between men and women. These are people who embrace the special social moments of life and are active and fun-loving. They are culturally connected; they know what’s going on in the world around them. They are mindful of their health and like to have a social drink but not at the cost of a big calorie intake – feel like that’s a bit of a waste and the hangover isn’t worth it.”

The RTD sector typically sees a higher demand during the summer months. On predictions for 2021, Karl comments: “2020 suggests there is a high level of seasonality to the category with sales significantly reducing after September. However, the data from the US demonstrates that there is less seasonality. Ultimately, we think there is much more to come from the Hard Seltzer category, 2020 was a challenging year for the drinks industry with consumer occasions being dramatically different. Hopefully by the summer in 2021 we will have a better sense of what the landscape will look like and the on-trade will be fully open again. The category has yet to really demonstrate the breath of the consumer occasion which is understandable.”

Regarding future plans for the Seven Summits range outside of Ireland, Karl shares “We are planning a UK soft launch in Q1 this year with a more extensive roll-out during the summer. We are also exploring opportunities via our Internal Business so would expect to have further announcements during 2021.”

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