June 4th, 2013 | Posted in: Features

As well as keeping the doctor away the humble apple is a symbol of surefire success. The mammoth global success of the Apple corporation is the most glaringly obvious example, and then there’s the drink most associated with this fruit. Jason Caddy reports.

Cider’s rise to power in Scotland’s on-trade has been one of the most written about success stories of recent years, and this rosy-red shiner of a category has now, say market researchers Mintel, converted three in five UK adults to its growing fan base. That’s on a par with cats and Whiskas. Not bad for a category that was limp and lifeless a decade ago. But like all good things, a run of success must come to an end somewhere along the line, so are we on the brink of cider’s popularity levelling out?
John Gemmell, Trading Director North for Heineken UK, owners of Strongbow and Bulmers, doesn’t reckon so, although he acknowledges that we may be entering a new phase for the category, “I hate to use the term ‘levelling out’ although I do think that the category has reached that inevitable stage where it’s beginning to mature,” he says. “Although that in no way detracts from the success of a category that has demonstrated three
to five years of growth. The latest CGA figures for the on-trade to the end of 2012, for both draught and packaged cider, is up 5%, equating to about half a billion in terms of on-trade retail value in the UK. So of course there’s room for growth which is why we’ve just launched Bulmers Cider Pressed Red Grape, and Bulmers Cider Bold Black Cherry.”

The succession of flavoured variants that have appeared in recent years have been many, and if this explosion of flavours continues at the same pace, it will make for a crowded market. As John Gemmell also points out, “It will eventually come down to the survival of the fittest. There are only so many brand extensions that any one brand can realistically sustain, and a huge
global brand like Coca-Cola is a prime example of this.”

This swing towards the likes of pear and mixed fruit is certainly giving Kopparberg Head of Marketing, Rob Calder, cause to celebrate. He said, “Kopparberg is the largest packaged cider brand in Scotland, according to CGA, and Kopparberg is now also the best-selling packaged cider brand in Scotland’s pubs and bars on an MAT basis. (reference: CGA Packaged cider report to 29/12/12) and Kopparberg mixed fruit is now bigger than Magners Original bottles in volume terms in Scotland’s on-trade. (CGA MAT 2012).”

Although, as he also explains, Kopparberg was not an overnight success. “We have obviously benefitted from the trend for lighter, sweeter products that has been happening over a few years now. We laid down our mixed fruit roots early on, so our brands launched on a strong foundation for growth. We aren’t in the business of boom or bust.”

He continues, “We’re sticking with our knitting this year. I think that we’ve got the range right and to launch more variants would result in diminishing returns. You have to distinguish between variation and innovation, and it’s important that licensees give enough space to variants with a proven track record, instead of the next thing that comes along the flavour conveyor belt.”

Kopparberg have also brought out a new glass which is very cool. Inspired by great Swedish design, the new glass is an unconventional, quirky antidote to the tall slim glassware which has become the established norm across the trade. Says Rob, “This is a glass with character. A talking point. A glass you want to show off. Some even think it looks like a vase… Although we’d suggest you fill it with chunks of ice and splash a chilled Kopparberg over them, then kick back and relax.”

A few people I spoke to in the trade did tend to broadly agree with this view, one being Andy Robertson, Stock and Cellar Manager at Glasgow’s Oran Mor. He says, “The flavour variants are definitely very popular, and we have no less than four pear variants. In fact, with four Rekorderlig, four Kopparberg, five Bulmers and two Strongbow, customers are incredibly spoiled for choice. Some would say that it’s verging on overkill.”

However Pamela Duff at The Castle Tavern, a bar with one of the biggest beer gardens in Inverness, says, “The fruit revolution has reached Inverness, in fact we just started stocking Kopparberg Pear three days ago. Magners Pear and Kopparberg Mixed Berry also go down really well, and we’re finding that demand for cider is pretty healthy the whole year round. We have a big beer garden which does boost our cider sales.”

George Fyvie, GM at Edinburgh’s Pear Tree, comments, “With our huge beer garden we are obviously a weather dependent outlet, but we go through 40 cases of Kopparberg a week regardless of the weather. That is what customers want, not tampering with the standard formula. We tried serving mulled cider during the winter months this year and it bombed, as all our customers are demanding are new flavours.”

Dennis Forsyth, licensee at Cheers Cafe Bar in Fraserburgh comments, “I think that we’ll be looking at more of the flavour variants on draught in the future because the bottles are so big and it will take a lot of the burden off the fridges. This is what stops a lot of licensees stocking as many variants as they’d like to, and cider brands like Magners and Kopparberg are now mainstream names. I also sold two cases of Kopparberg Non-Alcoholic last weekend, which is a great alternative to a carbonated drink for adults, with a lot more kudos.”

When it comes to brand support says Dennis, “I was talking to the Tennent’s rep only yesterday about getting Magners Pear on draught in our main bar in time for summer, as they’ve been really supportive to date with point of sale like bunting, counter cloths and beer mats for their mixed berry variant. And it would seem that any old associations of cider as a male preserve are long dead. Graham Bell, The Outhouse in Edinburgh, said, “Cider drinkers in The Outhouse are made up from both sexes now, a real 50/50 ratio men to women, and like everywhere else, I imagine, it’s the flavoured variants introduced by the likes of Bulmers and Rekorderlig that customers are going for. At the premium end of the market it’s the one that gets customers talking that counts, and we are thinking of putting Aspall in.”

Mintel has also reported that younger people make up half of those who are new to the category in the last five years, with half of them willing to pay more for premium cider brands.

Although at the other end of the scale, Lou Farrell of the Buzzworksowned Treehouse in Ayr says, “Many customers still insist on asking for Strongbow even though we haven’t stocked it
for some time.”

There is a danger of dwelling too much on the flavoured cider here, which in terms of volume is nowhere near Strongbow’s size. John Gemmell explains, “Let’s not forget that in Scotland, two
thirds of adults drink Strongbow, and as well as being the sixth biggest draught product in the UK (in terms of lager and cider) it is bigger in terms of volume than Stella, Grolsch and Carlsberg Export combined.”

There are also some new additions to the UK scene. Somersby Cider is brand new to the UK market, although the Carlsberg owned brand, has been around since 2008 in Europe. This new version, only launched here in March, has been specifically adapted for the UK to meet our tastes and preferences. It is also made with no artificial colouring or flavouring which makes it a perfect drink for vegetarians and vegans. It’s also got a pretty cool glass, which makes the drink look very appetizing and that, combined with a £10m marketing spend, means that it will have high visibility. And while Kopparberg and Rekorderlig have been the Swedish ciders that have made the biggest impact on the Scottish cider scene, Herrljunga is also pushing forward this year, although it has been available since 2007 in the UK. Since joining the Catalyst Brands stable last year, there has been a bit more oomph about the brand. Now, Catalyst aims to give Herrljunga, Sweden’s best selling cider, a higher profile here.

Last but not least, no cider article would be complete without the mention of Magners. The good news for Scotland is that Magners, which, remember, launched here, is now being marketed from here too. The Wellpark Brewery offices are now home to the Magners cider team. The brand has already taken on the shirt sponsorship of Celtic and has launched a new TV ad, which is great because for the last two years it has had little promotion in Scotland. Perhaps the burst of activity has been activated because of a recent fall in sales. In the UK market it has slipped to number three, with Strongbow in number one and Stella Artois Cidre now in number two position. In Scotland, it remains the top selling premium cider when you combine the Magners Original (bottled) sales and Magners Golden Draught sales. The new advertising will see the brand going back to its roots with a take on traditional social spirit that first launched the brand in 2004. The new ad takes the title ‘Now Is A Good Time.’ and follows a fellow as he delivers an ode to the ‘here and now’. The ad will introduce the line ‘Now Is A Good Time’ to UK audiences and inspire people to live in the moment and share good times with friends.

Commenting on the activity, Paul Condron, Marketing Director for Magners GB said, “The 2013 campaign will celebrate the inherent sociability that is key to the brand and sets out to encourage a new generation to savour those good times moments.” All in all there’s still plenty happening in the cider world, and certainly consumers still have an appetite for all flavours of cider. All we need now is a good summer!!

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