Bud Light to sink its claws into hard seltzer market

Illustration for article titled Bud Light to sink its claws into hard seltzer market
Photo: Anheuser-Busch InBev

Rumors swirled in September that Anheuser-Busch InBev would debut a Bud Light hard seltzer, and at the time, A-B was coy, telling The Takeout only that “We have the industry’s leading portfolio because we are never satisfied. … Details on new product launches will be shared in due course.” The cat’s out of the bag now, as Anheuser-Busch announced yesterday via press release it will indeed debut Bud Light hard seltzer in early 2020. You have questions, we have answers.

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Is it Bud Light, or is it seltzer?

Releasing the seltzer under the Bud Light brand might be slightly confusing to some customers—the new product is hard seltzer, not beer—but Anheuser-Busch clearly thinks the potential confusion is worth it to convey the “light” aspect of its new seltzer. A desire for low-calorie, low-carb drinks is part of the appeal of hard seltzer, and Bud Light’s version comes in at 100 calories, 2 grams of carbs, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 5% alcohol by volume.

Aren’t these flavors a blatant White Claw rip-off?

Having tasted a number of hard seltzers, I can confidently say that certain flavors are tried-and-true winners across brands (“berry” isn’t it). It’s not surprising, then, that there’s a lot of crossover between White Claw, Truly, and Bud Light’s offerings; all three brands offer black cherry, lime, and mango flavors.

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What’s Bud Light’s long game?

Anheuser-Busch already owns Bon & Viv brand hard seltzer, so why is it introducing a competing seltzer brand? Here’s my hunch: Bud Light seltzer potentially has the power to come in at a lower price point than Bon & Viv, White Claw, Truly, and other brands. Most hard seltzers aren’t cheap (relatively); a 12-pack of White Claw runs more than $15 at my local Walmart. Compare that to a 12-pack of Bud Light, which comes in around $11. If Bud Light hard seltzer could come in closer to Bud Light prices than White Claw prices, it has the potential to lure price-conscious shoppers away from other brands.

Bud Light also has massive name recognition, as it’s the most consumed beer in America. If Bud Light seltzer can draw in new drinkers, perhaps Anheuser-Busch thinks it could convert them to Bud Light drinkers if the hard seltzer trend slows. I’m skeptical that today’s hard seltzer drinkers will become tomorrow’s grocery store light beer drinkers, but Anheuser-Busch certainly has the money and national presence to try to prove me wrong.

If there ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws, and there ain’t no rulies when you’re drinking Trulies, then…?

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I got nothing.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

It was definitely Hard Seltzer Summer(tm) for me this year, and I tried nearly all of them to get a feel for things. A few takeaways:

- My favorite of all hard seltzers is Mango Truly. It tastes like actual mango.
- White Claw is generally the best, factoring in the tastiness of the flavor range
- Natural Light Aloha Peaches is worth buying. Not so Catalina Lime Mixer. The latter tastes chemically, like toothpaste. The former is plenty quaffable, if not excellent. Where Natural Light wins is in the price point game. It’s also a little higher in ABV. Oh, and the cans fit in a normal koozie.
- Generally speaking, the more exotic the flavor, the less tasty the seltzer. Stuff like passionfruit/dragonfruit/prickly pear just doesn’t play well in the format, at least not to my palate.
- A bunch of local (Twin Cities, MN) hard seltzers have popped up and they’re not as good as the bigger brands. YMMV.

I welcome the Bud Light offering, if anything because it will bring the price point down. I mean, a rack of White Claw was never going to break the bank, but it’s also not something that you sip.  I drink it the same way I do light beer, so it would be nice if it were priced accordingly.