Skip to content

Clawed to the Top

Buoyed by Innovation and Smart Brand Management, Mark Anthony is Poised for Continued Success

By Joshua M. Bernstein

White Claw now boasts more than 60 share of volume in the hard seltzer category

Doomsayers have often reported the demise of hard seltzer. Death certainly makes for good headlines, whether it’s true, or not. But the hard seltzer category has hardly flatlined thanks to the folks who make White Claw.

There’s no denying that hard seltzer sales are down from their original meteoric trajectory, but let’s be real, the category remains a more than $ 3 billion sector in America. While the initial liquid gold rush has ebbed, there is one clear winner: White Claw, which impressively commands more than a 60 share of volume.

Putting that number into a more human perspective, around three of every five hard seltzers sold in America is a White Claw. What is true for the category is not true for White Claw. The brand’s dollar growth actually increased 2 percent last year. “Our message continues to be that leading brands grow categories,” says David Barnet, Chief Commercial Officer for White Claw, a major brand in the Mark Anthony portfolio. “White Claw is proving that theory.”

Mark Anthony is on a massive winning streak. The family-owned company, which entered the American market in 1999 with Mike’s Hard Lemonade, cultivates ahead-of-the-curve brands that create and define categories. From White Claw to Cayman Jack, a margarita-inspired FMB, and higher-alcohol MXD Drinks, Mark Anthony greets drinkers in most every cooler door.

“Few companies have the ability to be first and meet consumers’ demands before they even know that they want it,” Barnett says. “At the end of the day, that is one of the last competitive advantages.”

Made with a blend of real fruit juice, agave nectar, and citrus flavors, Mike’s Hard Limonada Fresca Variety Pack

Expanding White Claw Occasions

Hard seltzer is a relatively recent phenomenon. Mark Anthony released White Claw in 2016, meaning the brand isn’t even a decade old. “We must remember that the category went from zero to 200 million cases in just six years,” Barnett says. The category’s peak saw more than 300 suppliers, he adds, offering thousands of SKUs that created consumer confusion. “Product differentiation and quality suffered.”

Despite the emerging category’s volatility, hard seltzer, as a refreshing, low-calorie alternative to beer, spirits and wine, remained rock solid. And after experimenting with competing hard seltzers and ready-to-drink cocktails, many consumers are returning to White Claw. Ethan Peiffer, a Brand Manager for Origlio Beverage, agrees, confirming that other options on the market don’t satisfy consumers quite like White Claw does.

“Mark Anthony keeps its ears close to the ground to hear what consumer trends are.”

 — ETHAN PEIFFER, Origlio Beverage Brand Manager

The wholesaler’s top-selling White Claw flavor is Black Cherry, one of the original four flavors. In a crowded market, customers are turning to trusted brands. “White Claw consumers see our core flavors as iconic,” Barnett says. Mark Anthony is prioritizing the health and growth of core SKUs by refreshing packaging and tweaking flavor mixes, adding a pineapple variant to its flagship variety pack. Additionally, the company is adding a new variety pack and single-serve flavors for White Claw Surge, its higher-ABV offering that’s drawing younger consumers. “There is a very long runway for growth,” Barnett says, adding that White Claw Surge sells nearly 7 million cases annually and is growing 10%.

In addition to the spirit-based White Claw RTDs featuring vodka or tequila, Mark Anthony is betting that the brand can play in the non-alcoholic category. And so White Claw 0% was released in December. On the surface, a non-alcoholic White Claw seems a little redundant. After all, plenty of NA seltzers are sold at supermarkets that offer low-priced house brands.

White Claw 0% is designed for more than fizzy hydration. Non-alcoholic White Claw, sold in slim cans with familiar flavors like Black Cherry and Mango, slots seamlessly into drinking occasions when, for whatever reason, someone is abstaining from alcohol. “People don’t want to lose the celebratory nature and social connectivity that comes along with having a drink,” Barnett says. “This is where White Claw 0% comes in.”

Cayman Jack Capitalizes on the Massive Appeal of Margaritas

White Claw’s stratospheric success has somewhat obscured the sleeper hit that is Cayman Jack. In 2012, Mark Anthony created the margarita-inspired FMB brand flavored with lime juice and blue agave nectar, nixing a massive marketing spend in favor of a steadily building discovery model. Cayman Jack sales are now approaching 10 million cases annually, and the brand is growing 20 to 30% monthly, making it the country’s fourth biggest FMB brand.

Cayman Jack is now the country’s fourth biggest FMB brand, growing 20 to 30% monthly.

“My philosophy is consistent double-digit growth over time,” Barnett says, adding that the company’s Cayman Jack focus is expanding the lineup through targeted innovation and growing distribution and retail presence. The brand family now includes the Sweet Heat Margarita Variety Pack of piquant flavors including Grilled Pineapple and Spicy Lime. Cayman Jack’s appeal is as both a finished product and easy cocktail base. Pour a can over ice in a salted-rim glass, add a shot of tequila and a squeeze of lime, and that’s a pretty solid margarita.

“The Mike’s Hard Lemonade and stronger HARDER Lemonade brands are also continuing to dominate the hard lemonade category,” Barnett says, “accounting for a 75% share.” Mark Anthony also plans to support its Zero Sugar Mike’s that, at 100 calories per 12-ounce serving, is tailored toward better-for-you consumer shifts. Mark Anthony brands are engineered to meet any occasion, malleable enough to bring in new flavors, calorie counts and ABVs to meet drinkers’ ever-evolving needs. “Mark Anthony keeps its ears close to the ground to hear what consumer trends are,” Peiffer says.

Mike’s HARDER Cocktails are a line of drinks that include three cocktail-inspired flavors: Piña Colada, Hurricane Punch, and Screwdriver.

After a quarter-century in the American market, Mark Anthony isn’t resting on its innovative laurels. The company is testing 2 Hoots, a hard tea, and is entering a partnership with international soccer star Lionel Messi to create a new, non-alcoholic hydration drink, set for release in select test markets this summer. “We are still a David amongst Goliaths, and we certainly take that underdog mindset seriously,” Barnett says. “Considering our competitors, we are a young company and we’ve only just begun.”

Mixing It Up

The American beverage consumer equates alcohol with value, and this is an especially important proposition in the sector of single-serve cans. What can deliver the biggest, most flavorful bang for your buck? Mark Anthony is betting on MXD Drinks. The emergent FMB brand blends bold, cocktail-inspired flavors like Strawberry Daiquiri and Mai Tai, both 12% ABV, with colorful illustrated labels featuring true anthropomorphic party animals like a frog, dog or iguana cutting loose with a cocktail. The brand is now nearing 1.5 million cases annually despite only being available in a handful of states including Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

About the Author: Award-winning beer journalist Joshua M. Bernstein is the author of six books, including The Complete Beer Course.