Mark Ludmon looks at the ever-growing choice of ciders on the market and ideas for serving them
While alcohol consumption continues to fall in the UK, cider has soared. Three in five adults now drink cider, significantly up compared to the year before when it was drunk by less than half of Britons, according to the latest report from research group Mintel. “Usage has flourished in recent years as the market has improved its image, with strong growth in the premium tier,” says senior drinks analyst Chris Wisson. Sales of cider have grown by 32 per cent over the past five years, with flavoured variants attracting new consumers, especially women aged 18 to 34, and Mintel predicts this upward trend will continue. Chris says there is still potential to be tapped into, with most people not seeing cider as a premium product and some cider drinkers saying they forget to order it at the bar.
This is an opportunity for the trade, says Barry Chevallier Guild, chairman of cider maker Aspall. “There is a whole job of work to be done to educate the public on the huge variety of ciders available, from complex blends to all sorts of ciders for different occasions, and numerous cider and food matches.” Aspall has been working with the on-trade to develop food matching ideas, such as pairing its dry, creamy Premier Cru with spicy food. “The plethora of new ciders being launched into the marketplace by the large brewers is definitely adding vigour to the market. However, as the market becomes more crowded there is potential long-term damage which could be caused as individual brands may seek to increase their growth using pricing tactics as opposed to genuinely adding value to the category.”
New flavoured ciders were launched last month by Thatchers, one of the growing premium brands. Its new Mixed Fruit cider, made with a blend of natural blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry, was added to the Thatchers Somerset Fruit Ciders range alongside Thatchers Somerset Rosé and Thatchers Somerset Pear. With an ABV of four per cent, it comes in 500ml bottles. Managing director Martin Thatcher says: “This premium fruit cider will stand out for consumers and, combining the heritage and traditional production methods with the essence of rural Somerset, it is different to any other cider in the market.”
Last month, Heineken introduced two fruit-flavoured ciders, Bulmers Cider Bold Black Cherry and Bulmers Cider Pressed Red Grape, in 568ml bottles, with an ABV of four per cent. At the same time, it relaunched Bulmers No17, first introduced two years ago, as Bulmers Cider Crushed Red Berries & Lime. “Genuine product innovation is crucial to maintaining sales and momentum in the modern cider category and flavoured cider has been a key driver of this success,” says Lawson Mountstevens, managing director for the on-trade at Heineken in the UK. “Bulmers No17 has led growth in the modern cider category since 2011 and we estimate that 80 per cent of incremental sales will come from flavoured cider by 2015.”
Other brands have been investing in premium packaging. Brothers Cider launched a new look in February to cement its position as a “premium modern British drink”, tying in with the fifth anniversary of its launch into retail after first appearing at Glastonbury Festival in 1995. The new packaging has been introduced on the 500ml bottle range of Strawberry, Toffee Apple and Wild Fruit, formerly called Tutti Frutti, as well as the signature Festival Pear Cider. Managing director Matthew Showering says: “Keeping Brothers as a genuine and effective choice amongst the now rather crowded cider and fruit-flavoured fixture requires constant innovation. We know more people than ever are drinking cider and we recognise the early adopters of Brothers who discovered our cider at Glastonbury have grown older and wiser.”
Healey’s Cyder has introduced new packaging across Cornwall’s Rattler range in preparation for driving distribution across the UK. The new contemporary livery, with an apple illustration incorporating a snake to represent the “Rattler bite”, has been rolled out across Rattler Original, Rattler Pear and Rattler Berry. Head of commercial Joe Healey adds: “The introduction of our new branding is just one element of a year of development and innovation behind Rattler.”
Aston Manor has unveiled a new look for its Kingstone Press Cider as part of efforts to build it into a major brand, backed by record investment. The new strong brand identity coincides with the introduction of a 500ml glass bottle to the range alongside the 660ml glass and 500ml PET bottle as well as Extra Cold on draught. Managing director Gordon Johncox says: “In refreshing the look of the brand we are reflecting the fact that Kingstone Press is an authentic English cider with the visual cues as well as the taste to appeal to real cider drinkers.” It is part of a wider three-year investment of more than £10million in growing Aston Manor’s cider business.
New formats have also been added for premium Swedish craft cider Briska, which was introduced in bars and restaurants in the UK in draught and 330ml in 2011. The Pear and Pomegranate variants are now available in 500ml bottles and will be supported by advertising, sampling and social media campaigns. Luke Wade, sales director at distributor Proof Drinks, says: “The launch of the larger bottle format is in line with our growth strategy within the UK marketplace, aiming to help more consumers enjoy our craft Swedish cider in pubs and bars. The Briska 330ml craft range of Pear, Apple and Pomegranate has performed extremely well in the food-led and restaurant sector, but we want to increase our availability in venues where there exists little opportunity for 330ml and draught Briska by introducing the 500ml format.”
Passionfruit is the latest flavour for Swedish cider Rekorderlig as a limited edition for this summer. Available from April, it will have promotional support in the on-trade and joins flavours such as Strawberry-Lime. “Building on the international flavour trend towards more exotic flavours, the new limited-edition Passionfruit is a completely new offering for the fruit cider category and gives consumers another new and innovative taste from Rekorderlig,” says marketing director Gemma Copping. “Innovation within flavoured cider has been a major catalyst of year-round growth in the cider category and we don’t see this slowing.”
Rekorderlig has also been developing cider as a cocktail ingredient in bars, working with consultant bartenders such as Michael Stringer of Hire the Barman and its own in-house mixologist Joel Parsson who has created a range of summer cocktails.
Investment has also gone into new products. This summer, Chase Distillery will be branching out from its core business of spirits and liqueurs to launch a still cider, made from the same cider apples used in distillation to create Naked Chase vodka. Founder William Chase says he wanted it to be a traditional still cider, taking it “back to basics”. Regional brewer Bath Ales introduced its Bounders Cider three years ago, initially trialling it in only a few outlets but now available across the south-west in bars and pubs. With an ABV of 4.5 per cent, the crisp cider is promoted for matching with food such as risotto, cold meats, roast pork, camembert and fruit desserts.
With leading brands promising more variants this year, Barry at Aspall warns that saturation point could soon be reached for flavoured ciders. “With producers continually throwing another fruit variant into the mix for what seems to be just new launch’s sake, this does not add any value or breadth to the category,” he says. “On the contrary, it devalues it and runs the risk of appearing to be very similar to what happened with alcopops. In our opinion there is not an inherent demand for some of the more recently launched products that in our view do not add true innovation and value to the category. However, time will no doubt tell.”
Case study: Stonegate
Stonegate Pub Company has introduced Hogan’s Cider into its estate after a successful pitch from the craft cider maker. It is the first product trialled in the estate since the Stonegate Pub Company Challenge initiative was launched, inviting businesses to showcase their products in a 15-minute pitch process. The ciders, made from freshly pressed English cider apples grown in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, are now in stock in selected Stonegate outlets across the Midlands. They come in “bag-in-box” packaging that keeps the product for six weeks from opening.
Case study: Drake & Morgan
Apple cider is increasingly being used as a cocktail ingredient in bars. At Drake & Morgan’s bar The Parlour in Canary Wharf, London, mixologist Dave Tregenza has been experimenting with Aspall products to create new drinks. They include the Spring Thyme Shandy (pictured below), made with 25ml of Snow Queen vodka, 20ml of fresh lemon juice, 20ml of agave syrup, three drops of plum bitters and 50ml of the dry, round and creamy Aspall Premier Cru, which has an ABV of seven per cent. Dave also uses the Premier Cru to create a twist on the popular Mexican drink Michelada, using cider instead of beer to top up the mix of AquaRiva blanco tequila, clarified tomato juice, lemon juice, salt and pepper bitters and Tabasco.