Trend Report 2020: White Claw Summer Was The Tip of The Sparkling Booze Iceberg

by Bill McCool on 12/18/2019 | 5 Minute Read

2020 is finally here, and it's that time of year where we get to play Nostradamus and tell you where the future of branding and package design is heading. 

This is the third installment in our 9-part Trend Report for 2020; to view the other sections, click on the following hyperlinks to read about Brand Merch', The Rise of Non-Alcoholic Booze, Monochromatic Packaging, Patterns, The Plant-Based World, Non-Binary Branding, Flexible Logos, and Material Innovation.


Yes, we just told you that no one wants to drink. 

Except for everyone drinking White Claw right this very second. Which is astounding considering there were actual shortages (or were there?), and no one thought we’d make it through this past summer alive. 

I have witnessed grown men sporting White Claw tank tops, seen it’s distinctive can turned into yet another “sexy” costume, watched it become a candle for the Etsy-set, stumbled upon a dude with a tattoo of Baby Yoda holding a Claw of all things, beared witness to bizarre fitness cultists crushing them while on a hike, and oddly enough, saw it make an appearance at our nation’s capital for an I-don’t-even-know-why-this-exists-holiday-card shoot; in short, I have seen the future, and it’s spiked seltzer.

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But are these flavorsome bubbles here to stay, or is this just another Zima bound for the crystal-clear dustbin?

Likely not. Hard seltzer sales grew 169% in 2018, a clear sign that people still probably want to get drunk AF, but with less beer bloating and hangovers; these aren’t the syrupy-sweet wine coolers of the 80s like Bartles & Jaymes or the Hard Lemonades that rose to acclaim in the 00s. White Claw is an Instagram darling that is the belle of the millennial-set ball—they even claim that they outsold Budweiser back in July.

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And while competitors like Bon & Viv and Truly lag behind the Claw’s meteoric rise, the world’s biggest breweries are paying attention, as both Bud Light and Corona plan on releasing their own take on hard seltzer in 2020. And they’re far from alone. Natural Light released their neon-bright fizzy wonder this past summer, and even Four Loko wants in on the action, albeit at a steeper, Loko-esque booze content. Given that alcohol sales have declined in recent years, it’s no surprise that more of the major players are looking to expand their offerings.

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They also rolled White Claw out as a healthier drinking option. At 5% ABV, it’s the equivalent of knocking back a Bud or a session IPA. Factor in the 100 calories and zero sugar, and you have millennial Kool-Aid; of course, the caloric content isn’t all that different from a light beer or even a glass of red wine. While it’s true that people want to drink less—specifically, younger folks—they also might desire the perception of drinking less, and if it comes in the form of a light, effervescent seltzer, well, why not?

But White Claw has done something none of their other competitors have done—they’ve purposefully marketed the brand as being gender-neutral.

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White Claw wanted to take the brand out of the stereotypical tropes that have always dominated the alcohol industry for time immemorial. This wasn’t a beer for the boys, or a white wine Skinny Girl spritzer, this was for a discerning millennial audience that didn’t want to silo themselves. In the Washington Post, White Claw vice president of marketing Sanjiv Gajiwala said the brand emphasized group hangs and how they dominate a young person’s social life, saying “It wasn’t a world where guys got together in a basement and drank beer and women were off doing something else, drinking with their girlfriends. Whatever we put out creatively and how we positioned the brand really reflects that everyone hangs out together all the time.” 

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But is it hard seltzer that’s set the world aflame, or our unquenchable thirst for all things bubbly? Yeah, there’s La Croix and a hundred other sparkling water brands, but now we’ve got bubbly CBD AND THC water? What’s our obsession with all things bubbles? Are we just starting to catch onto what the Europeans have been doing for the past few decades? They’ve had Sodastream all this time, and they didn’t even think to share it with us (jk jk, but look at this 90210 edition, am I right?).

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But all bubbles aside, as Josh Barro pointed out in the Intelligencer, the Claw has a similar brewing process to that of beer, and because of this, it gets taxed like a bottle of suds. If you had made a drink that was say, flavored vodka and seltzer water, you would have to pay an additional $2 per six-pack in New York City alone. So would White Claw have taken off in the same way if it cost more? My Steve Harvey survey says no.

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A drink that contains alcohol is, by definition, really not that good for you, but sparkling water has provided us with a vessel that feels adjacent to the wellness movement. Dram and Recess are beautiful, elevated looking drinks, but their sparkling CBD drinks could be a part of a market valued at $1.4 billion by 2023. White Claw and other hard seltzer are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential in all things bubbly and sparkling water. 

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Of course, lots of industry experts predict that winter is coming, and with it, our desire for all things Claw will come to a close. To that, I can only tell you that summer is a force that gives us meaning. The first time you fire up the grill or get your personal Igloo beach-ready, once the first bead of sweat falls down your back or you finally experience a temperature over 60 degrees, a hard seltzer will be at the ready, and dammit, it will be refreshing.

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