There is no denying that the cider market has seen a boom in the last 10 years. The ‘Magners effect’ has seen the reputation of cider transform from a product that only tramps on park benches drink to a refreshing summer beverage served over ice. Cider is now recognised as a premium product with craft or traditional cider driving the excitement in the market.
According to the latest CGA stats for the year to end 24 January 2015, premium cider sales by volume increased by 4.9 per cent bucking the general decline in the drinks sector. This means there is a great opportunity for operators to tap into this growing trend by offering something craft and premium.
Andrew Quinlan co-founder of Orchard Pig, the Somerset producer, says that craft is now the new innovation for cider.
“The market is tiny at the moment. I would predict craft cider sells no more than 15-20 pints per 800 pints sold in the country. But there is a huge opportunity for small cider makers and for retailers to be the ones to present craft cider to consumers,” he argues.
Louisa Sheppy, owner of Sheppy’s, another Somerset-based cider producer, agrees the market for craft cider is growing and that there is an opportunity for producers and retailers.
“We have moved away a situation where it was in fashion and then out of fashion. There is an opportunity for more upmarket ciders and to drink them in different ways,” she argues.
What is craft cider?
Many small cider producers steer away from the word craft in the same way that many do in the beer sector, preferring to use the word real or traditional.
But generally it is recognised as a product with provenance and heritage, produced from apple juice and not apple concentrate and fermented and blended in a traditional way.
As well providing fresh, natural ingredients craft cider offers a wide range of flavours, is suitable for coeliacs and is generally vegan - providing an opportunity for the bar, pub or restaurant operator.
Quinlan says people would be “gobsmacked” if they realised the range of tastes and flavours available in craft cider.
“You can have 10 different cider producers making cider from the same orchard and every cider will come out different,” he says.
“The retailer is getting the chance to give that to their customers in the same way as they show where they source their beef or where their steaks come from. People don’t want a homogenous plate or glass of something. They want to know more about it.”
Who is drinking craft cider?
There is a range of people drinking craft cider from the hardened scrumpy drinkers in the South West to a large number of women who are trying cider.
According to Quinlan 50 per cent of cider drinkers are now women and bars and restaurants need to recognise that in their offer.
Sheppy agrees that the female sector is a strong growing market and predicts “more and more women coming into the category”.
However, mainstream brands are still important as they are driving people to try cider. Brands such as Kopparberg and Rekorderlig bring new people into the category and this provides operators and producers with the chance to transfer these drinkers onto craft and regional products.
Sussex-based Arundel Brewery, the craft brewer, has recently launched its first cider, a limited edition Sussex Cyder, to meet a demand from high-end hotel, restaurant and bar clients that wanted a regional and premium offer.
Arundel Brewery founder Stuart Walker argues there is a younger consumer entering the craft cider market who has disposable income and is prepared to pay for something premium. He also believes that consumers are rejecting big brands in favour of products with “authenticity” and “quality”.
“You are always going to have the real big cider brands, which are going to take up the bulk of the market. But you are seeing people moving much more towards premium drinks and you are seeing the craft cider category emerging,” he says.
While the craft sector is known for its provenance that doesn’t mean there is no room for innovation. The mainstream cider operators have moved into flavoured and fruit variants and the craft sector is doing the same but with a more traditional twist.
Surrey-based producer Garden Cider Company has recently launched two flavoured ciders “Plum and Ginger” and “Elderflower”.
"We have found that consumers and retailers are very keen to try new flavoured products, especially interesting and new ideas, ” says director Ben Filby.
Orchard Pig decided against going down the fruit route launching Maverick, its ginger and chilli variant.
This type of innovation in craft cider looks like it has no sign of stopping providing pubs, bars and restaurants with a wide range of choice for the consumer.
Sheppy believes this will continue and predicts that cloudy ciders are to be the next big thing.
“But then at the other end of the market you have got people mixing cocktails with cider which is such a new and exciting idea,” she says.
The Inception Group owned Bart’s in London’s Chelsea has just launched a cider cocktail menu using a range of Suffolk-based Aspall products.
According to bar manager and head mixologist Vincenzo Sibilia customers are already pre-booking to try the ‘Cyder and Salad’ cocktail plates.
He is at the forefront of cocktail innovation already serving one cocktail made with fish and one with blue cheese.
He says consumers, especially in the London market, are “open minded and willing to try” and believes cider cocktails provides a great alternative for wine drinkers.
One of the cocktails on his list the ‘Classic Countryside Crunch’ is served with Aspall Premier Cru Suffolk Cyder, Tanqueray No TEN gin, celery, apple, fennel and sugar, with a salad of sliced apple, fennel, celery and dried berries.
It is this link with food that is also starting to have an impact on the craft cider market. Sheppy believes this is due to people wanting to know where their food is sourced as well as the need for operators to innovate.
“One way for them to innovate is to take a product like cider and say ‘lets use this where we might have offered a wine’. They are also mixing it with menu suggestions and ingredients suggestions so you get the opportunity to put food and cider together,” she says.
Cider and Food
The eight strong restaurant chain The Stable, which recently saw 51 per cent of the company bought by Fuller’s, is a whole concept devoted to craft cider and pizza. Each site stocks about 60 different ciders served in bag in box, bottles and draught and offers cider and pizza matching.
When the company set itself up four and a half years ago founder Richard Cooper said: “People liked the idea that the farm was down the road and there was a story behind how it was made.”
The pizza element came as craft cider and cheese is such a strong food and drink match.
All bar staff are trained on craft cider and will recommend different ciders with different types of pizzas. He believes that educating the customer is a way to promote traditional ciders.
“We offer a cider tasting board. We change the ciders every month and take people on a journey with cider – bottled cider, single variety cider, specialist draught ciders and a still farmhouse. You can then get a full spectrum on what there is to offer in the world of cider,” he says.
Food is something thatOrchard Pig has used to promote its cider.
Its website suggests dry cider Truffler (6% ABV) be matched with British Sausages and mash or steak pie; Reveller, (4.5% ABV) a medium sparkling cider, can be matched with pork belly while Charmer, (6% ABV) medium sparkling cider goes well with fish and chips.
Cider – what to stock?
If you decide that offering a craft cider is something that will work for your business where do you start?
Sheppy believes it is important for retailers to offer both a mainstream cider and a craft cider as a choice for the consumer.
“I think it is important for outlets to be offering something mainstream and something craft so operators that want something a bit different and perhaps regional can have that available,” she says.
For those operators who do not want to heavily commit to a cider she suggests the bag in the box option.
“You don’t have to have a font installed and you can have a visiting cider and be a bit more experimental,” she says.
“There are lots of different bag in box ciders. If you want to give it a go and next week try something else it is an easy way to find out what customers like without a lot of commitment.”
Quinlan agrees that there needs to be a choice on the bar or the restaurant menu.
“Cider is worth about 20 per cent of the long drink market so in theory if you have 10 taps in your bar you should have two that are cider and you should certainly have two or three bottled ciders in your fridge and that is where you can put your flavoured ciders,” he says.
One challenge for operators wanting to stock something different is tracking the good small producers, meaning operators such as bars and restaurants may need to be creative. Cooper says small cider producers do not market themselves very well and are rarely on twitter and Facebook.
“In the early days we had to go out in the car to see these farmers as a lot of smaller producers don’t have any distribution,” Cooper says.
“My advice would be go around and find a really interesting product.”
However, Walker believes that there is still a battle to get craft cider stocked in pubs, bars and restaurants, especially outside London where the big brands dominate.
“If you go into most restaurants and ask for a cider you are going to get one of the main brands and more often than not you are not going to have a choice of craft, premium cider,” he says.
However, he is positive that this is changing and the craft cider market will appeal to consumers in the same way that craft beer has.
Finally, when you have chosen your range of ciders how do you serve them?
The Magners serve of cider over ice has become iconic but is not something supported by craft suppliers.
Quinlan says: “Ice worked for Magners but we would not suggest serving over ice – why dilute the taste? Don’t serve it too cold as this will affect the flavour. Still cider should be served at at 12-14 degrees.”
Many of the larger craft cider producers offer their own glassware ranging from pint glasses to more delicate chalice like glassware.
Quinlan advises restaurants that offer cider in the larger sized sharing bottles to use wine glasses to serve.