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Why alcoholic water drinks loved in the US do not work in France

French people do not go to bars to drink sparkling water said one former stockist in Paris

White Claw is the most known brand of hard seltzer in the US. It has never been commercialised in France Pic: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

Alcoholic water drinks - known as hard seltzers - are no longer being stocked in French shops and bars just three years after being introduced in an attempt to piggyback on the trend in America.

The 5%-alcohol-infused fruit-flavoured sparkling water drinks just do not suit the French palate or idea of what a drink is, said Olivier Cavard, owner of In Good We Trust, a specialist supplier of American foods in Paris.
They also faced opposition from anti-alcohol associations. 

Hard seltzers inundated bars in large cities around both coasts in America in the late 2018 and 2019s, with marketing to meet millennials' concerns over low calorie and gluten-free products. 

The trend’s powerhouse product White Claw topped some $2billion in sales in 2021 and big companies were quick to develop their own versions to ride the wave.

American firm Snowbelt tried investing in the French market as did French start-up companies Natz, Fefe and Obe.

Three years later, Snowbelt was placed in compulsory liquidation in 2022 by the French administration and French versions are looking towards other markets to bounce back from failure.

“I would say it has no place in France from a cultural point of view. It is a very particular drink that has no flavour really,” said Mr Cavard.

In Good We Trust participated in Snowbelt’s introductory attempt on the French market, selling a 33cl can for €3-€3.50, but Mr Cavard said he warned its executives about their commercial risk and the peculiarities of people's taste in alcohol in France.

Read also: Anger as French government mulls raising alcohol taxes

Not the same relationship with alcohol in France as in US

Snowbelt’s idea was to limit sales to local distributors such as In Good We Trust and bars, said Mr Cavard, who had doubts about the bar tactic. 

“French people do not go to bars to drink sparkling water. Hard seltzer is a summer drink to party or drink when ‘chilling’ at home. It’s just not the same relationship that French people have with alcohol,” he said.

Only American clients requested the drink at In Good We Trust, he said.

Snowmelt quickly faced the introduction of greater competition when Coca Cola with Topo Chico, Pernod-Ricard with Bewiz or Bacardi-Martini with Plume & Petal developed their own version of hard seltzers.

Snowbelt’s strategy to concentrate only on local distribution changed to include retail stores. 

Mr Cavard said it was “mayhem” understanding where Snowbelt’s products should be placed in-store, saying products switched from the ‘no-alcohol beer’ section to alcohol beverages section from one week to the other.

Read also: Why France’s alcohol-free cocktail boom is ‘not just a trend’

Only one client asked for it in a year

Hard seltzers’ hardships continued when products were re-qualified by the French administration from a beer product to a spirit beverage, increasing the tax charge. 

“I haven’t sold Snowbelt for a year. I think only one client has asked for it in that time,” said Mr Cavard. 

Topo Chico and Bewid have stopped being commercialised and Obe is looking towards Brazil, according to Le Monde. White Claw has never entered the French market.

Long gone is the time when Snowbelt projected €220 million or 1% of its market share by 2025 on the French market. 

While it was placed in compulsory liquidation, the Grande Epicerie of Paris still sells the product in its shop in Passy district, one clerk told The Connexion.

“I would not drink these cans as they were produced prior to the liquidation,” said Mr Cavard.

Read also

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