Cider Feature: Have you got the bottle?

CiderFeature ForWeb

When I was asked by my editor to write an article on cider it struck a certain nerve. I spent almost ten years as a General Manager of bars and restaurants, most of which featured expansive beer gardens, it has become almost second nature to begin worrying about cider as soon as the sun first breaks through the clouds in April. Having worked through the beginnings of the cider-over-ice craze that followed the launch of Magners, as well the re-invention of the market in recent years by Scandinavian flavoured ciders such as Kopparberg and Rekorderlig, I have come to see first hand the central role that the category has played in adapting to (and shaping) consumer’s evolving tastes. Assignment in hand, I spoke to several licensees and brand managers to discover the latest trends in the cider category, as well as some new additions in the comings months.
Something that everybody appears in agreement with is that cider remains in rude health. With The Wine and Spirit Trade Association reporting a 6% drop in year-on year alcohol sales for the first quarter of 2014, the fact that the cider category is still growing at a rate of 1.8% annually indicates that the recent surge of interest in cider continues unabated. Scotland lags behind however, with the cider category declining by 1.5%, though producers remain confident that a series of new releases this summer will re-invigorate the market.
One of this summer’s new faces is New Zealand’s Old Mout cider, launched by Heineken. For the uninitiated, Old Mout rhymes with ‘fruit’, and has been famously mispronounced since its inception in 1947. Launching with a variety of different flavours, such as Passionfruit and Apple, Summer Berries and Kiwi and Lime, Old Mout is packaged in 500ml bottles and has an ABV of 4%. Already New Zealand’s number one cider, Heineken hope that Old Mout will increase the value of the World Cider Category.
Heineken have also released some new additions to the Bulmers range, with the lower-alcohol Bulmers Indian Summer and Bulmers Five Fruit Harvest intended to tap into the moderation trend. Heineken’s Andrew Turner told DRAM, “These have been developed to offer pub goers a compelling choice of lower alcohol ciders that deliver extra refreshment without compromising on superb quality and taste.”
Another world cider, South Africa’s Savanna, may not be new onto the market, but a forthcoming major marketing push should see the world’s fourth largest selling cider become a major player in the on-trade this summer. Featuring a unique serve – a wedge of lemon in the neck of the bottle – Savanna targets the well-travelled 18-35 year old market, whom they believe will have sampled the cider abroad and wish to continue enjoying it when they return home. Anthony Mills, Head of European Marketing for Savanna, said, “Consumers are focused on heritage, quality and authenticity. There has been much more awareness and interest from consumers who are actively searching for quality world ciders, like Savanna, that offer something different. This provides an advantage to us as Savanna is the original New World cider and one of the largest cider brands in the world.”
Other new names in the cider market are attempting to target the coveted 21-30 year old demographic, and move away from the established over-ice serve. Lazy Jack’s, an American cloudy apple cider in distinctive green packaging, has a sweet taste profile and is intended to be drank straight from the bottle, catering for a younger clientele in ‘high-energy’ venues. Richard Clark, Director of Innovation at Halewood International, told us, “Lazy Jack’s offers a completely new proposition within the cider category, as the first single-serve cloudy cider, served straight from the bottle with no ice or glass. Younger consumers are increasingly looking for sweeter alternatives, with market research identifying 41% of 18-24 year olds prefer sweet alcoholic drinks. Lazy Jack’s has a refreshingly sweet taste whilst still appealing to those who want an apple cider.”
Hornsby’s American style cider is another brand set to make waves this summer. It’s from the same stable as Magners, and like Lazy Jack’s is intended to be consumed from the bottle. Available in either Crisp Apple or Pear and Strawberry, owners C&C are set to support the brand with a striking POS campaign, promoting ‘the bold proposition of cider served the American way’.
Spirit-based cider, Manzana Loca, launched at the end of 2013, and is set to enjoy its first summer in the on-trade market. The Lucha Libre mask design on the bottle provides the brand with instant recognisability on the back bar, and its tequila and lime infusion provides a point of difference within the cider category. Chris Deacon from Hi-Spirits believes that Manzana Loca fills a gap in the market. He said, “In terms of taste profile, it hits that middle ground between a dry cider like Blackthorn and the uber-sweet flavoured brands. It has a dry to sweet palate and an appealing tequila twist. We have found that both beer and cider drinkers alike are excited by Manzana Loca, with female drinkers in particular really taking to it. We’re starting to see some movement on the Scottish market, especially in lively, vibrant venues, and there are exciting times ahead – watch this space!”
It should come as little surprise that the rise of flavoured variants has played a significant role in cider’s success. Figures supplied by Heineken indicate that no less than 50% of today’s cider drinkers have been drawn to the category in the last five years, coinciding with the launch of numerous flavoured brands onto the market. Tellingly, perceptions of cider have changed too, with 83% of consumers viewing flavoured cider as a unisex drink according to Mintel.
New flavours set to be major players this summer include Rekorderlig’s Apple-Guava, Kopparberg’s Elderflower and Lime and Strongbow’s Dark Fruit. Linsey Adams, Customer Marketing Manager for Rekorderlig, believes that the introduction of new flavoured ciders keeps the category vibrant. She said, “New and innovative flavours are a key trend within the category. Consumers’ expectations and desire for exciting new flavours increases each year, meaning brands must react accordingly. The fruit cider category continues to grow, and consumers are opting for these flavoured variants over traditional apple and pear. Draught cider amongst the flavoured category is also a growing trend. Historically it has been dominated by apple cider but with demand increasing, Rekorderlig will be rolling this out to its portfolio of customers throughout the year.”
However, is there a danger that licensees are becoming too spoilt for choice, and that in becoming bogged down in trying to keep up with the latest trends in flavour some are losing sight of what worked so well in the cider category in the first place? Ed Shoebridge, Head of Customer Marketing at C&C Group believes so. He told us, “In the 90s, we reinvented the cider category by offering the original over-ice serve for Magners Original. Since then, cider has remained synonymous with a refreshing taste, ideal for relaxing with friends and thanks to the number of varieties and options now available, its appeal has only broadened with new drinkers being brought to the category regularly.”
So much so that Magners’ share of the market is under pressure. C&C spent some £3 million on the brand last year, and as a result volumes in the on-trade remain fairly stable.
Says Shoebridge, “Research shows that cider loyalists are put off by too much choice within the category. Bar owners and managers should focus on stocking core brands that perform well. Rate of sales increase when lines are simplified, which licensees should capitalise on. Innovation will remain important to the cider category’s continued growth, but with cider loyalists reacting negatively to too much choice, we should also see a renewed focus on core apple ciders like Magners Original.”
There is certainly strong evidence to support the benefits of simplifying your cider range. Pear Tree House in Edinburgh has one of the largest beer gardens in the city, and as such sells through astonishing volumes of cider in the summer. Exclusively stocking Strongbow on draught and Kopparberg in bottles hasn’t hampered sales in the least, as General Manager George Fyvie told DRAM. He said, “Kopparberg accounts for about 70% of our packaged sales, and in a good week we get through a pallet a day. Mixed Fruit and Strawberry and Lime are the most popular of the six flavours we stock, most likely because they’re the most established.”
Ben Turner, Customer Marketing Manager for Kopparberg, told DRAM, “New flavours are seemingly on a conveyor belt right now, though what we’ve seen is more a variation on a theme rather than real innovation. The key is to back proven winners. It is getting crowded out there, but our brand has continued to grow in double digits, despite the increased competition. The reality is that new flavours tend to occupy smaller niches than some of the stronger variants, which have genuine, continued consumer demand. Kopparberg Mixed Fruit was the pioneer of the fruit category and it remains in growth, still number one and growing. Kopparberg Strawberry & Lime is not far behind it.”
This view is shared by Linda Miles, General Manager of Brel in Glasgow. She told us, “Kopparberg is the only bottled cider that we stock, and although it’s a huge seller for us our customers aren’t too fussy about cider brands. People really just seem to want a choice between apple, pear or fruit, and even then they don’t especially care what the fruit happens to be. There really are too many flavours on the market, it’s all gotten quite gimmicky.”
There is more to cider than innovative flavours, of course. In particular, the burgeoning small-batch cider market is attracting new consumers both at home and further afield, and is showing signs of capitalising on the craft beer revolution as consumers become increasingly aware of provenance when it comes to their drink of choice.
One brand that has flourished in recent times is Scotland’s own Thistly Cross, whose range of authentic craft ciders has captured the imagination of cider enthusiasts across the country. Peter Stuart, Thistly Cross’ Cidermaker Director told us, “Craft beers are generally promoting choice behind the bar and encouraging drinkers to “try something different”. Thistly does very well in this context. Authentic craft beers and ciders are all about good use of ingredients, provenance and innovation – which Thistly is all about. Real cider is the original craft movement and the craft beer agenda offers a prefect opportunity to consider this unique and amazing sector.”
However the very nature of small-batch ciders means they are unlikely to sell in high volumes, and some licensees may be understandably reluctant to allocate valuable fridge or font space to potentially slow-moving products. Callum Carmichael, General Manager of The Hanging Bat in Edinburgh, believes that while small-batch, independent ciders are not yet in huge demand in Scotland, things my be about to change. He said, “We only stock a couple of high quality ciders at a time, such as Waulkmill from Dumfries, or Sheppy’s from Somerset. However in the last few months we have been approached by a few prospective cider producers looking to supply to the bar, a sign perhaps that interest in independent ciders is on the rise.”
Undoubtedly, there are interesting times ahead for the cider category. Several new releases launch this summer, each boasting their own individual twist on the market, and with the continued trend of new flavours showing no signs of slowing down it will be up to licensees to decide how much is too much for their business. Perhaps most intriguingly, can small-batch ciders match the recent success of craft beers, particularly in Scotland which lacks the traditional cider-producing history of down south? Only one thing is certain – come the first hint of good weather, your fridges had best be fully stocked in preparation for the madding crowd’s insatiable thirst for cider.

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