The popularity of cider-over-ice just keeps growing, with sales soaring 22 per cent to £421.2 million in the year to Dec 30 2006, and volumes climbing 15 per cent, according to Nielsen. Own-label cider ranges have seen knock-on growth of 10 per cent, making them worth £31.7 million - 8 per cent of the overall market. Now retailers are getting ready to cash in on the boom with own-brand products designed to be drunk over ice.
Sainsbury's this week released its own-label over-ice cider. Made by Westons from eating apples, it comes in a brown glass pint bottle priced £1.49.
Cider buyer Trish Penn says: "Off the back of the phenomenon it was absolutely appropriate that Sainsbury's had a representation in that area. Anybody trying that product will not be disappointed if they have come to the area through Magners or Bulmers Original. It has been designed and developed to be drunk over ice."
Westons also makes a medium-dry and a medium-sweet cider in Sainsbury's Taste The Difference range, while the supermarket's basic own-label cider in a 2-litre PET is made by Devon Cider.
Asda has an over-ice cider in the pipeline. Made by Gaymer Cider Company, it will come in a 56.8cl glass bottle priced £1.58 and is due to be launched in the summer.
Cider buyer Jill Wilson says: "This line is a very exciting liquid . Customer research to date proves it will be a huge success. The line will be added to our new permanent three-for-£4 Linksave across 50cl-66cl glass bottle ciders."
She adds: "The explosion in premium glass bottle ciders in 50cl -1-litre servings over ice has been great for the cider market and industry, driving much-needed advertising investment and new product development.
"This investment in advertising has provided a renewed customer focus in cider . Our customers have re-entered the cider market after a lapse period and are now looking for a variety of brands and taste profiles. We need to offer a variety of premium cider SKUs to ensure the range grows with these customers."
Asda also stocks a 2-litre PET value cider and a 3-litre PET own-label cider, both made by Devon Cider .
Threshers and Booths are two more retailers currently considering adding a premium or over-ice cider to their own-label ranges.
Booths beer, lager & cider buyer Dave Smith says: "We haven't got an own-label cider at the moment but I'm looking at bringing one in because there has been a resurgence in the popularity of cider and I can see this continuing.
"Cider used to be drunk in summer - it had a little bit of baggage with it as far as the people who drank it. Now Magners ha s done a fantastic job of bringing cider to the forefront, to the detriment of the alcopop side of the business. It has put us into premium cider, and at least you can taste apples in a lot of them now ."
Smith adds: "We've increased our range of cider. Compared with what we had 12-18 months ago it has probably doubled in some cases, but it is the quality end which is doing really well. Our own-label cider would be premium, in a glass bottle, probably a bit higher in abv than Magners is at the moment. But we've just got to try to find the right type of product before we put it into bottle, and I'm satisfied we can sell it."
"Retailers are asking us to quote for new concepts," says John Mills, managing director of Gaymer Cider Company, which he says is the UK's biggest own-label cider supplier.
Mills draws a distinction between over-ice ciders, which he calls "mainstream plus", and premium products such as Aspall's and Gaymer's Orchard Reserve. He says: "It is fair to say we will see some retailer mainstream plus. We've already seen premium products such as Waitrose's selection and Taste The Difference, and you will see some own-label or sub-branded own-label exclusive mainstream plus products."
Mills puts the growth own-label ciders have seen so far down to standard ciders. "The growth is more about the fact that, with the mainstream brands promoting less deeply, own-label has found a bit more of its own level," he says.
Martin Thatcher, managing director of Somerset -based Thatchers, which makes Wychwood Brewery's new Green Goblin cider, expects to see more developments in own-label cider. "I think a lot of them are looking to put in more premium own-labels that would fit in the 50cl or 56.8cl category," he says.
"If they make cider at the premium end it is probably a good thing. It is not just about prices, it is about drinking occasion as well. We would be very keen to see people drinking responsibly and promotions being responsible . Deep cut promotions I don't think are in anybody's interest."
Simon Russell, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers, is pleased to see the innovation in own-label. "Anything that broadens the range and stimulates interest in cider is a good thing as far as we are concerned," he says. "There have been some very good own-label ciders , and many of the retailers would have them in whatever they choose to call their 'best' range .
"People readily know these days that there are some very good ciders out there so the supermarkets are also looking to extend that across own-brand. Given the consumer interest in cider it is perhaps not that surprising that the major retailers are trying to broaden and extend their range of ciders," Russell added.
"Sometimes they are doing that because of the innovation that has come through from cidermakers. As long as they are finding space on the shelf for it and stimulating interest it has got to be a good thing."
So what has the brand that started it all got to say about own-label look-alikes appearing on shelves next to the branded copycats already on sale?
"Magners is entirely focused on producing the Magners brand for the UK market and does not produce own-label ciders," says spokeswoman Jules Macken. "The pint bottle and ice remain the iconic Magners brand and one associated with high quality refreshment."
She adds: "We welcome the current expansion of the cider category and we're confident that consumers will soon learn to differentiate products and make their choice based on quality, availability, authenticity, taste and past experience.
"There may be a role for own-label in other product areas, but within the premium cider category where Magners is leader, we don't feel that own-label has a role to play."
White cider suffers as range reviews favour premiums
As cider retailers gear up for what promises to be their best summer in decades, ranges are being reviewed and fixtures shuffled to make sure the biggest-growing section of the drinks market has enough space to work its magic.
The suffering RTD market is the most obvious candidate to make room on shelves, but some retailers are also taking space from beer - including the burgeoning PBA section, according to some brewers. One victim of the premium cider boom that is unlikely to be mourned much is white cider.
Sainsbury's and Asda have both recently completed category reviews to give more room to premium cider.
Sainsbury's does not do an own-label white cider, and only stocks White Lightning, which has abandoned extra-fill and 3-litre PETs. Cider buyer Trish Penn says: "Where we go down to one bay of cider we've taken out the white cider representation in that area completely. Customers want it, but we are not actively supporting it."
Asda's white cider offering is Diamond White in a
2-litre PET and six-can pack. Cider buyer Jill Wilson says: "White cider is important to a large segment of our customer base . We therefore need to have an offering in range."
Len Hooper, beer & cider trading manager at Musgrave Budgens Londis, advises his franchisees to cut back their offering in white cider - which he says is in decline - alongside RTDs, to make room for new offerings on the market.
"Previous failings in the cider category to address the lack of depth in quality, which denied the consumer the ability to aspire within the category, have been addressed. The repertoire drinker can now select from bottles of cider with the same discerning eye and pal ate as ale and lager," he says.
"This now means that, whereas cider was the first thing you ever got drunk on and never drank again, it is now in a position to be the first choice of a discerning customer who wants something a little different to go with that special meal."
But Gaymer Cider Company managing director John Mills is still worried about the prevalence of white cider. "A couple of MPs have been talking about their concerns socially about cheap white ciders. Although price is not in our gift, we have to responsibly market our products and retailers have to responsibly retail our products.
"I would encourage retailers to really move white cider pricing up, and not just white cider but all cheap strong products. We've seen Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda move white cider pricing up pre-Christmas, and it is hard.
"There is still some way to go for some of the other retailers who are pricing products very low down to move pricing up so that white cider doesn't become the cheapest way of getting drunk," he says.
"There is a brand out there that is giving away 50 per cent extra free on a 2-litre pack, and that can't be responsible marketing. The rest of the industry has moved away from big extra-fill packs and there is still one out there. This cannot be good for the industry."
What's new? A round-up of this year's cider news so far
Scottish & Newcastle UK is to spend a record £45 million on promoting its cider brands this year, including advertising, music sponsorship and a major sampling campaign.
S&N is already advertising Bulmers Original on TV and plans to sponsor Polar ice cubes to promote the "over-ice" message.
Magners has launched its first unified national TV campaign as well as heavyweight outdoor advertising and a number of sponsorship deals.
Gaymer Cider Company has announced a record marketing spend of £26 million.
Gaymers Original has been rebranded to focus on the fact that it is cold-filtered.
Refresh UK has launched its first cider, 6 per cent abv Green Goblin, made by Thatchers.
Thatchers has launched a 4.5 per cent abv pear cider, a cider/perry blend.
Thatchers has produced the official cider of West Country folk band The Wurzels - 4.8 per cent abv Wurzel Me Cider.
Sainsbury's has launched an own-label "over-ice" cider.