The Rise of Hard Juice
*** Update: Thirsty World Limited has a “Live/Pending” Trademark on the words “Hard Juice”***
A New Alcohol Trend Takes Center Stage
In the ever-evolving world of alcoholic beverages, there’s a fresh, exciting trend stepping into the limelight: hard juice. Mixing liquor with juice has been around since humans invented cocktails in the 1800s (though humans could have been playing mixologists with these ingredients as early as 7000 BCE). The trend is by no means new. Instead, it has been resurging in the canned cocktail and fermented malt beverage (FMB) market and evolving naturally from consumer tastes. With a desire for better-for-you cocktails that offer both pure ingredients and delicious taste, hard juices are satisfying a growing consumer demand.
In an article by the New York Times titled “Welcome to the Age of Hard Juice,” Shaun Belongie, the chief marketing officer for New Belgium, aptly describes the Hard Juice trend as a “blurry space.” While not every brand self-identifies as “Hard Juice,” many juice brands are taking a walk on the boozy side, like SunnyD, Oceanside, and Simply Lemonade. At the same time, other brands are switching to real fruit juice, like White Claw and Truly Hard Seltzer. The trend has been naturally evolving, and in 2023, more and more brands are taking up the Hard Juice label.
The Hard Juice Timeline
In the alcoholic beverage market, big brands are always looking to the future. Which flavor, spirit, or type of drink are consumers looking for? Research companies publish predictions on what consumers will want next year, and dozens of brands jump on the trend. Meanwhile, there are trends that sneak up on the market, becoming consumers’ favorite choice before the beverage category analysts even have the category on their radar. Enter Hard Juice, a trend that High Noon Sun Sips may not even know it started. Here is a timeline of how this trend took over the beverage market.
2019 – E&J Gallo Launches High Noon
High Noon, in 2019, shook up the drink world by making a hard seltzer with real vodka and real juice. This new approach set the stage for what we now call the hard juice trend. High Noon released flavors that were trending with White Claw and Truly Hard Seltzer (like black cherry, grapefruit, pineapple, and watermelon), but all made with genuine juice. People loved this because it gave them genuine cocktail ingredients without a huge quantity of calories, carbs, or sugar. This kicked off a trend where other brands started using real juice and natural ingredients too, giving us better, more authentic drinks.
2020 – 2021 – NÜTRL Vodka Seltzer Makes a Splash
In 2021, Anheuser-Busch joined the hard juice trend that High Noon had started by launching NÜTRL Vodka Seltzer across the country. NÜTRL also kept it simple, using basic ingredients like vodka, fizzy water, and real fruit juice. This was in line with what High Noon had done earlier, focusing on drinks that are easy to enjoy. NÜTRL was made available everywhere, giving more people a chance to try it. This move was part of Anheuser-Busch’s plan to create new and exciting drinks and expand its range of ready-to-drink spirits.
Meanwhile, independent products like Smooj Hard Smoothie, SunDaze Juice-Based RTD, and Crafty Elk Hard Juice entered the market. While some hard juices aim for moderate juice content, SunDaze elected to have their cocktails contain at least 70 percent juice.
2022 – Coca-Cola Introduces Simply Spiked Lemonade
In 2022, Coca-Cola, the folks behind the beloved Simply Lemonade, teamed up with Molson Coors to launch Simply Spiked Lemonade, making quite a splash in the ready-to-drink scene. Although they didn’t officially call it “hard juice,” they did something remarkable by changing what we think of as FMBs. These Simply Spiked Lemonades come in four flavors: Signature Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Watermelon Lemonade, and Blueberry Lemonade, all inspired by the fan-favorite Simply Lemonade.
The buzz around this release was real, and it’s not surprising because Simply Lemonade is a household name in the U.S. This real juice trend had already been growing in hard seltzers and ready-to-drink beverages, but here, it was the country’s favorite juice brand going boozy.
Meanwhile, Rebel Hard Coffee from Twelve5 released a new line of hard juices, the Juicy Hard Juice Variety Pack with four flavors. The flavors included Plum Yuzu, Blood Orange Starfruit, Pineapple Mango, and Blueberry Acai. These drinks had only 100 calories and contained real juice.
2023 and Beyond – Beverage Giants Embrace Hard Juice
SunnyD made a significant foray into the hard juice scene with its introduction of SunnyD Vodka Seltzers. This transition from a childhood favorite to an adult beverage was marked by its enduring popularity. Notably, SunnyD Vodka Seltzers broke away from tradition by being sugar-free, a departure from the original SunnyD’s sweet profile. These seltzers presented a better-for-you alternative with just 95 calories per can and a 4.5% ABV, aligning them with other leading hard seltzer options.
SunnyD is not the only big brand in the game. Major beverage companies are diving into this still-emerging market, proving that hard juice is not just a fleeting trend but a growing category. New Belgium Brewing has also taken the plunge with its Wild Nectar Hard Juice line, offering tropical juice mixes like strawberry guava and passion fruit lime.
Amidst these industry giants, smaller breweries and beverage companies are also embracing the hard juice trend. Two examples are Ola Brew in the Big Island, Hawai’i, which released Ola Hard Juice, and Two Robbers Seltzer Company in Philadelphia with Double Punch Hard Juice. Two Robbers Seltzer Company started with hard seltzers in 2019 but soon noticed consumers mixing juices into their hard seltzers. This led to the introduction of a hard juice with flavors Mango Double Punch and Black Cherry Double Punch and an ABV of 8%.
The anticipation doesn’t stop there; Absolut Vodka and Ocean Spray are preparing to launch a canned vodka cranberry cocktail in early 2024, further broadening the hard juice spectrum.
A Versatile Space
The appeal of hard juices extends to a wide audience. It’s not just about satisfying the existing consumer base, but also about attracting new legal drinking-age consumers. With hard seltzers accumulating nearly $4.2 billion in sales, companies recognize that leveraging household brands and bold fruit combinations can be the recipe for reaching new customers.
The hard juice trend represents a fundamental shift in the alcoholic beverage industry. As drinkers explore a broader range of options, the focus is shifting from the traditional beer and wine categories to products that offer a balance of taste and alcohol content. The allure of alcoholic drinks with real fruit juice lies in their ability to deliver big flavors and better-for-you ingredients.
So, whether you’re a fan of the classics like SunnyD or ready to explore exotic tropical flavors, the age of hard juice is here, offering a delightful and diverse range of options to satisfy every palate. As the trend continues to gain momentum, you can expect more exciting developments and innovative concoctions on the horizon, the FMBs and canned cocktails in this “fuzzy space” an integral part of the modern drinking experience.
Want to find your perfect hard seltzer or canned cocktail? Try our new Seltzer Finder! You can search by flavor, ABV, carbs, and more to discover your ideal beverage.