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US liquor trending: lighter libations

Sectors including food and beauty have rapidly adopted wellness cues in their branding as consumers seek healthy options and natural alternatives at every turn. Yet until recently, the alcohol industry has remained largely immune.

Today, alcohol brands are seeking to entice the health-focused consumer with low-calorie options and natural flavours. The rise of spiked seltzer like Nauti Seltzer is a premium example. Last spring, Wachusett Brewing Company rolled out the seltzer, a healthy alternative to hard sodas, as an attempt to diversify its brand in the crowded craft beer market.

But it’s not just craft brewers – major labels are also lining up to offer new heath-focused options.

This September, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its plans to acquire SpikedSeltzer, a pioneer of the hard seltzer business that uses cold-pressed citrus essences.

Smirnoff is also planning to launch its own Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer, according to parent company Diageo.

“There’s a reason you see people in yoga pants all over New York City – not because they’re working out,” Valerie Toothman, vice president for marketing innovation at Anheuser-Busch InBev told Bloomberg in August.

“It’s this idea that a kind of health and well-being is the new premium.”

Truly SpikedTruly Spiked & Sparkling, an April launch from the Boston Beer Company (distributors of Sam Adams), uses no artificial flavours or sweeteners and contains just 100 calories.

The new brand seeks to capitalise on the wave of interest in carbonated water, which is replacing soda for health-conscious consumers (witness the spiking sales of La Croix, which have doubled in two years to $255-million, according to Euromonitor).

Beyond seltzer, brands are scrambling to offer low-calorie or health-focused options. In September, MillerCoors launched Zumbida, an alcoholic version of the light, fruity aguas fresca found throughout Mexico.

Last winter, Smirnoff created a line of vodkas flavoured with real fruit juice, while Stolichnaya released a vodka branded as gluten free, making it the first large, established, and international vodka brand to do so, according to Reuters.

Major companies are even changing their long-term strategies, anticipating that health-forward spirits are not a passing fad but a long-term consumer shift.

Anheuser-Busch InBev predicted this summer that by 2025, low- or no-alcohol beers would make up 20% of its sales.