The seltzer craze originated with spirits, expanded into beer, and now the popular sparkling alcoholic beverage is making a foray into wine.
Villa Maria is gearing up to launch what it believes is New Zealand's first wine seltzer, a range of fruit-flavoured products made with rosé, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris as a base.
Defined as alcoholic sparkling water containing fruit flavouring, seltzers are typically distilled with sugar cane or a spirit as an alcohol base resulting in a drink with less sugar, carbohydrates and fewer calories. However, the drinks can be made with any alcohol base, and beer seltzers have recently started flooding the market.
Seltzers have proven hugely popular in the United States and drinks companies believe this will flow through to Australasia as consumers continue to move away from traditional sugar-laced alcoholic beverages.
Villa Maria, which owns wine labels Villa Maria, Esk Valley, Leftfield, Vidal and Thornbury, will next month launch its LF Wine Seltzers under its experimental wine brand Leftfield. It says its product is one of a few to launch globally.
But, unlike beer or cider-based seltzers, wine seltzer cannot be sold in supermarkets.
The New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council explains that once wine is mixed with anything else but wine it is technically no longer seen as a wine, under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Wine cannot be anything other than the product of fermented grapes.
Seltzers are perceived to be healthier than traditional ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) and seem to be a buzz word within the industry right now.
According to Nielsen, RTDs currently hold the second-highest share of liquor after beer, and the category is growing at more than double the rate - accounting for 27 per cent of all alcohol sales.
Villa Maria head of marketing, Sarah Szegota, said the development of a wine seltzer was led by consumer demand as health-conscious millennials moved to reduce their sugar intake and drink less frequently.
Szegota said innovation was key to stay competitive in a crowded market and the Villa Maria Group was working on other developments within its wine brands.
Villa Maria acquired Leftfield Wines in 2012, which had been working on the seltzer product over the past 10 months.
"Demand for our wines remain strong - we're shipping 13 per cent more cases than expected this year – but as the market evolves it's important that we evolve with it," Szegota told the Herald.
"We see a big opportunity here for wine seltzers as a global demand for natural low-sugar, low-calorie drinks and that has seen the seltzer market explode, particularly in the US, and New Zealand is not far behind."
Its LF Wine Seltzer will go on sale at liquor stores and on-premise venues from next week, and rolled out internationally from early 2021.
"There are very few wine-based seltzers overseas but, notwithstanding that, we're confident LF Seltzer will compete with the traditional spirit-based options because of its unique proposition and genuinely exceptional taste."
Bridget MacDonald, executive director of the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council, said wine seltzers could not be sold in New Zealand supermarkets as once they were mixed within anything other than wine, such as fruit flavouring or sparkling water, then they were no longer seen as a wine. Spirits, seltzer or not, are not permitted to be sold in supermarkets.
MacDonald said New Zealand's Food Standards Code was not designed with innovation within the alcoholic beverage market in mind.
"It is not uncommon for product development to outstrip regulations – what tends to happen is that new products are developed, but regulations are more conservative and slower to catch up. There is an opportunity to consider how lower alcohol and 'better for me' beverages can be made more available as a choice for consumers," MacDonald said.
"Innovation in the industry is being driven by consumer demand for 'better for me' products. We are seeing a global movement toward the slow savouring of all alcohol-types as well as a demand for natural flavours, lower alcohol and lower carb options – seltzers are a great example of this.
"There has been a shift to 'premiumisation' across all categories. What this means is Kiwis are discovering that a 'sip and savour' approach is best to enjoying a beverage, and they are willing to spend a little more on quality. These trends are being embraced in New Zealand. It's important the industry listens and responds to customer needs and demands, and we can have some fun along the way with new taste sensations and interesting flavours."