August 2, 2021

Hard seltzers, these alcoholic sparkling waters that are making a surprising breakthrough


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A facade covered with torn posters, thick curtains to preserve anonymity, no sign … The Parisian bar the Syndicate perfectly imitates the clandestine counters of American prohibition. This real fake speakeasy has nothing to hide, quite the contrary. The bartender twins Hadrien and Sara Mouloudaud propose Fefe there, for “Fait En FrancE”, one of the first hard seltzers tricolor. A beverage that is half soda, half cocktail, transparent as crystal, which aims to quench the thirst of millennials who care about their figure. This drink born in North America is indeed a simple mixture of water, fermented sugar, yeast and fruit aroma, all heavily washed down with marketing. Manufacturers of hard seltzer highlight its “purity” and lower glucose levels and caloric intake than those of beer, with the same alcohol dosage, between 4 and 6 degrees.

A drink that escapes the “premix tax”

And to ferment is not to distill. Neither flavored gin nor vodka, the hard seltzer sold in cans escapes the so-called “premix” tax, from the name of these mixtures where strong alcohol is masked by good sugar shakes. That is still 11 euros per deciliter of alcohol on the French market. A tax introduced in the late 1990s by many governments, worried about the ravages of these “ready-to-drink” beverages among young people, in order to make them less affordable.

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The history of hard seltzers began in 2016 with the launch of the White Claw brand by Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, importer and wine merchant. The businessman now claims half of an American market estimated at nearly $ 2 billion by the UBS bank, and which should more than double by 2022. Very quickly, the success of White Claw inspires a myriad of opportunists. On the French market, four brands have already launched. “The taste of Fefe is more refined than that of hard seltzers Anglo-Saxon, notably thanks to Jean Niel, perfumer in Grasse, who developed the aromas of mint and cardamom “, boasts Louis Malphettes, one of the founders of the young brand. On the Basque coast, Opéan has germinated in the imaginary of three young executives during confinement. The trio is betting on organic labeled recipes and a glass bottle, considered more chic. Natz, finally, who is also awaiting an AB certification, adds lemon and black tea infusions to his beverages.

Already four brands launched on the French market

The three start-ups have been marketing since the beginning of the summer 33 centiliter versions, sold between 2 and 3.50 euros, online, in wine merchants and in trendy bars. For the moment, only one American competitor made its entry, in July, at the Grande Epicerie de Paris: Snowmelt, a drink developed by the company Upslope, based in Boulder, in the mountains of Colorado. Too busy managing the explosion of sales in the United States and Great Britain, White Claw assured L’Express that he did not want to cross the Atlantic immediately.

Worried about their market share, brewers also took the plunge. The world No. 1, AB InBev, launched Bon & Viv and Natural Light Seltzer in 2019. Its major competitor, Constellation Brands, has bet $ 40 million on a variation hard seltzer of Corona beer. Even Coca-Cola has decided to put alcohol in its bubbles. Since 2018, in Japan, with Lemon-Do, and soon in Latin America with Topo Chico.

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Addiction risks

A runaway that begins to worry the medical community. “We are preparing to alert the Ministry of Health so that these beverages are integrated into prevention campaigns”, explains Dr Bernard Basset, president of the National Association for the prevention of alcohol and addiction (Anpaa). This connoisseur of addictions criticizes the slogans of these new drinks: “Of course, hard seltzers promise fewer calories than beer, but 98 kilocalories for 33 centiliters is no small feat. And we must alert young people and pregnant women: a drink at 5 degrees is not water. “Will the doctor be heard, while Public Health France is, logically, totally obsessed with the Covid?


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