White Claw on its ‘brand-first’ approach to becoming a top ten RTD brand

White Claw dominates the UK hard seltzer market, but with the term still remaining something of a mystery to British consumers, the brand is on a process of “education” to win consumers and become a top 10 ready to drink brand.

Hard seltzer brand White Claw is pursuing a “brand first” approach to growth as it seeks to move into the top 10 in the ready-to-drink (RTD) category.

The brand launched in the UK in 2020 and is now the dominant hard seltzer brand in the market in terms of both value and volume. As of the end of March, it had a 53% share of the UK market. According to data from Circana (formerly known as IRI), the hard seltzer market in the UK is worth £14.7m.

White Claw is fifteenth in the UK RTD category as a whole. The brand is aiming to move into the top 10 and currently has a higher rate of sale than five of the brands currently in the top 10.

While the brand is, by some margin, the biggest hard seltzer brand in the UK it is seeking to grow through a “brand-first” approach, says marketing director Michael Dean, emphasising its taste and refreshing qualities to consumers.

“In our first year, we were balancing whether we as White Claw were helping, alongside our competitors, to build a category, or were we focusing on building our brand awareness? Because we were unsure of how hard seltzers would connect to the UK consumer,” he said. “Since we’ve gone into the last year or so, we’ve been building brand-first into the RTD category.”

In 2020, the hard seltzer category was seeing huge growth in the UK. According to global beverage alcohol data and insights specialist IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, it grew 128% between 2020 and 2021.

The growth inspired a whole flurry of hard seltzer launches in the UK. Coca-Cola, Kopparberg, Heineken and BrewDog were among those who launched products in the UK in 2020 and 2021. White Claw, which is owned by RTD and premium spirits maker Mark Anthony Brands, also launched into the UK in 2020.

Heineken: Hard seltzer has not yet ‘moved the dial’ in the UK

However, IWSR analyst Patrick Fisher describes the growth seen between 2020 and 2021 as an “anomaly” driven by consumers at festivals post-lockdown.

“This level of momentum is unlikely to be sustained, and growth expectations for the coming years are much more moderate,” Fisher forecasts.

Two years after launch, Coca-Cola withdrew its hard seltzer product Topo Chico from the UK market at the beginning of this year. The soft drinks company appears to be investing behind its Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola collaboration instead.

Last year, Heineken marketing director Michael Gillane told Marketing Week hard seltzers are “not yet moving the dial from a scale point of view” and had a long way to go to match the success these products had seen in the US, due to a lack of familiarity with the category in the UK.

The US hard seltzer category, which White Claw has been in since 2016, is worth an estimated £13.87bn in 2023, according to Statista Market Insights, the biggest globally.

Dean acknowledges that “hard seltzer” remains “an alien term” to many British consumers. He says the brand actually doesn’t use the term in much of its advertising, instead using terminology such as alcoholic sparkling water and emphasising credentials such as the product’s refreshing nature and its flavour.

The brand is working to “educate” consumers on the hard seltzer category, and while it doesn’t currently have widespread resonance with UK consumers, Dean says White Claw has found a target consumer for whom the “drinking experience” of the brand “matches their lifestyle”. This health-conscious, sociable consumer is driving the brand’s growth, and allowing it to grow ahead of the RTD category as a whole.

Taking a long-term view

White Claw is not looking to hop on a trend, instead, much of its advertising  is geared towards creating brand equity to drive long-term growth, says Dean.

There is a “huge opportunity” for White Claw, Dean asserts, with continued growth for the UK RTD market forecast. The brand’s consistency and focus will be key to allowing it to benefit from this projected growth, he says.

“A lot of these big players have got full portfolios… we’ve got a full team in the UK that are consistently focusing across multiple channels on White Claw,” he says, adding that a great quality product also sets it apart from competitors.

In order to become a top 10 RTD player, White Claw is also aiming to win over beer and cider drinkers, and is already seeing a significant proportion of its new consumers coming from the category as they expand their repertoire of alcoholic drinks to add the brand.

White Claw has the refreshment and “sessionability” (having a lower enough percentage of alcohol that several can be consumed in one session) which many beer and cider drinkers opt for in their existing drinks’ repertoire.

We do fit multiple occasions, but at the moment… we need to double down on the ones where we have high penetration and high relevancy.

Michael Dean, White Claw

Festival activations have been a key tool in White Claw’s tactics since things opened up after pandemic.

This year it will continue to target its early-adopter consumers at dance music festivals and later-evening events, but will also reach an older beer and cider consumer through a partnership with British Summer Time in Hyde Park, which has an audience that skews slightly older.

While White Claw has seen strong growth since its launch in the UK, currently growing 8% versus the 5% rate of the RTD category as a whole, it is still in its “seed phase” says Dean, who says the brand’s marketing effectiveness is primarily judged against growing awareness and consideration.

The nature of alcoholic sparkling water means it lends itself to diverse consumption occasions, from being consumed at home with meals to in nightclubs, says Dean.

“We do fit multiple occasions, but at the moment because the category is still slightly smaller we need to double down on the ones where we have high penetration and high relevancy,” he says.