Woman holding cans of Tea West. / Photo courtesy of Chico Fermentation Project
The reports on the death of hard seltzer are greatly exaggerated, but a slowdown in overall sales has created an opening for beverage makers to push into an emerging category fueled by innovation and an ancient ingredient. Get ready—hard tea is coming for your glass.
“This is a big opportunity space,” says Robin Gregory, director of communications for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Under the Chico Fermentation Project banner, the company recently launched Tea West into several test markets and plans to roll out to 11 states in the spring. “We are seeing hard seltzer consumers turn towards more beverages like hard tea that have newer, complex and fuller flavors,” she says. “What they are not looking for is a lot of sugar.”
The hard teas that are being released are taking some plays from hard seltzer. Many are focusing on gluten-free, low-calorie and low-carb offerings, but are leaning into specialty teas that bring forth familiar flavors and can complement the addition of fruit to the drink.
Where the Sierra Nevada brand has long focused on ingredients and process to connect with customers, Gregory said that Tea West will focus on lifestyle and occasion.
“We can meet folks in the gap in the market,” she says.