Every day there are yet more depressing headlines about the recession, but there seems to be a small ray of sun
shining down on the UK's apple and pear orchards this
At first glance, the massive rise seen in the cider category over the past five years appears to be
- but it is the only long alcoholic drink seeing growth in the off-trade, according to the latest Nielsen figures.
Sales volumes are up 9%, compared
to -1% for lagers and ales, a heftier -7%
for RTDs and -10% for stout in the
same period ( Nielsen, year to Feb 21, 2009 ).
Simon Russell, of the National Association of Cider Makers, says: "Having spoken to a few analysts and producers in recent weeks, the consensus is that cider will still be in positive growth, but that
growth has slowed - as was always likely - but that still means the relative performance compared to other categories is very strong."
GB managing director of
John Holberry also looks on the bright side: "Cider is in an ideal position to continue to do very well. It's unisex. Not many long alcoholic drinks appeal to women - beer has very bad imagery for women but cider doesn't have that same sort of baggage.
"Its base ingredient is natural and
people associate apples
with being healthy.
"It's light and sweet in taste and less challenging than some of the bitter ales and stouts on the market, so it's attractive to those joining the ranks of the alcoholic drinks category."
S&N's off-trade sales managing director
Mark Gerken agrees: "Cider is coming from a much lower base than beer but it's bringing newer drinkers back into the sphere."
Pear and flavoured cider is continuing to see immense growth across the board, with the latest figures pointing to volume sales increases of
flavoured. Apple cider
in the year to
Feb 21 .
Swedish cider brand Kopparberg's
brand manager Meriam Alnaman says:
"Consumers are continuing to look for greater choice
and are becoming less likely to stick to one particular brand or one particular drink type. Cider is meeting this need as it, too, changes as a category.
"Gone are the days when cider meant just one drink type
- dry apple cider .
"The spectrum of choice within cider now goes from dry apple cider to sweet apple cider, dry pear cider to sweet pear cider and now apple cider with the addition of fruit juices - as in the case of our own Kopparberg with
fruit or S&N's Jacques fruit cider brand."
That's not to say that things are all plain
sailing in the category.
Chris Carr, managing director of
Merrydown, says: "I believe cider is,
and will remain, a challenging marketplace. But our research shows there is considerable consumer interest in the cider category and I honestly believe people will continue to buy and enjoy premium ciders. Consumers are still hungry for NPD, as witnessed by the raft of new ciders launched in the last couple of years.
"But there will come a time when ranges have to be rationalised and there will inevitably be winners and losers. Merrydown is lucky to have many loyal consumers and I am confident we will be one of the winners."
Provenance continues to play a strong role in the popularity of cider. Martin Howe, brand manager at PLB, which has Spa nish cider El Gaitero as one of its brands, says: "The growth in the on-trade and the expectation of a better summer will be levers to support sustainable growth alongside NPD that is consumer-driven. As with all categories, there is a consumer reaction to the introduction of new brands with no true provenance, and they will look beyond the latest gimmick or fad to seek alternatives. Consumers continue to strive for brand authenticity."
Chris Norcott, Devon Cider Company's
senior national sales manager, says: "The recession will naturally challenge all of us, but it can also present an opportunity for businesses such as ours. In this type of economic climate, customers will do all they can to support their local economy by buying locally-produced brands."
Innovation is key
In addition to the importance of provenance, innovation
seems to go hand in hand with the cider category.
Martin Thatcher, managing director of Somerset-based Thatchers, says: "Cider -makers need to continue to innovate and invest in their products, and not become complacent with the market. This has been very evident with the rise of pear and fruit ciders, and this sector continues to be a dominant force.
"The willingness of customers to embrace new styles of cider makes it an exciting market to operate in. At Thatchers we have never been content to sit back and let others do the hard work when it comes to innovation
- we have always put great emphasis on researching apple varieties, cider -making techniques, and cider styles. We have also always been firm to our beliefs, and have only ever used home-grown apples in our ciders. We know this is important to our customers; it is also important to the rural community, and the fact that we are able to track our ciders from the orchard right through to the bottle
is crucial to the Thatchers name."
Norcott says that the weak pound will also work in the company's favour. "According to Visit Britain, 4.9 million out of 25 million people who left Britain's shores in 2008 will try and save money this year with a domestic
"Many of these will choose the
west as their holiday destination, representing a huge opportunity for Devon
Overall it seems that despite the
gloom in the market at the moment, cider can indeed offer some room for optimism.
Matthew Showering, managing director of Brothers, says: "Cider will continue to grow, as there is still huge potential . Independent research shows a very small proportion of the UK population consider themselves cider drinkers and only 50% have it on their drinks radar. There is therefore still huge potential to convert new consumers and for the cider category to grow. The cider category has come a long way in such a short time and built so many compelling and exciting brands."