For, while microbrewers across the land have been experimenting with fruit and other flavours in their beers, among cider producers it seems to have become almost compulsory.
That Britain’s biggest cider brand, Strongbow, has chosen to go down the flavoured route with the launch of Dark Fruit is testimony to just how successful the likes of Kopparberg, Rekorderlig and Strongbow’s own stablemate, Bulmers, have been in carving out a distinct and substantial fruit cider market in the UK.
Kantar Worldpanel figures put fruit cider in growth of 33% by value in the year to March 17, against just 3% for total cider. Fruit cider is worth £86 million annually – more than pear as a stand-alone category – and 36% of shoppers buying flavoured ciders are new to the category as a whole.
“The people coming into the market for the first time tend to be slightly younger and with a sweeter taste profile, who may have bought RTDs previously,” says Gemma Copping, Rekorderlig marketing director at supplier Chilli Marketing. Fruit cider’s penetration of UK house holds stands at just 18%, versus 43% for cider overall, suggesting there is still plenty of room for growth.
Strongbow Dark Fruit – combining black- currant and blackberry flavours – hit the shelves in 44cl and 50cl cans earlier this month, its charcoal and purple packaging taking its place alongside the first Strongbow offshoot, Pear, which landed a year ago. Martin Porter, Heineken UK off-trade sales director, claims Pear has since sold more volume than all other pear ciders combined, with 44% of its sales incremental to the long-drink sector, including lager and ale.
“The cider category has experienced phenomenal growth over the past three years and most of that can be attributed to modern flavoured ciders,” says Porter.
“Dark Fruit has been created to recruit shoppers to the everyday cider segment by tapping into the burgeoning interest in flavoured cider.”
Rivals seem relatively sanguine about Strongbow treading on a patch of the cider market they’ve had pretty much to them- selves until now.
Rob Calder, head of marketing at Kopparberg, says: “Strongbow’s entry may bring more consumers into fruit, who then choose to trade up into premium brands.
“We know from Mintel research that almost half of cider consumers are willing to pay more for premium brands and Kopparberg is well placed to take advantage of that. As an imported brand, Kopparberg will always retain a premium price point.”
Copping at Rekorderlig adds: “As the market grows we’re bound to see more mainstream players come in, but we see it as a positive if a big brand is going to come and support the category above the line. It’s going to raise awareness of fruit cider and the profile of the category.”
As a brand owner, Heineken is in a position of strength to make rapid headway in fruit cider. Not only can it piggyback a power brand in the original Strongbow – which claims 87% value market share of the every- day cider segment – in negotiations with the multiples, it also has the experience of Bulmers to learn from.
Bulmers has built steadily after arriving late to the now-passé over-ice phenomenon created by Magners, juggling popular permanent lines and heavily supported limited editions.
It has brought two new products to its range this year – Bold Black Cherry and Pressed Red Grape – and given its No 17 variety a clearer identity by rebranding it, Ronseal-style, as Red Berries & Lime.
Porter says the new ciders bring “genuine news and excitement to the modern cider category by appealing to shoppers and fulfilling their need for experimentation”.
Heineken is far from alone in revamping its range, with Thatchers, Healey’s Rattler, Rekorderlig and Lambrini all adding flavour or redesigning packs this year.
The market has also demonstrated some of its maturity with a proliferation of multi- packs. Kopparberg has brought out 10-packs of 33cl bottles of its Strawberry & Lime and Mixed Fruits variants, while Rekorderlig has six-packs of Strawberry & Lime and Wild Berries.
But as categories mature they also become more attractive to supermarket buyers lining up promotional discounts and multibuys.
Copping at Rekorderlig says the fruit cider market remains relatively resistant to such pressures for now.
“We’ve not seen much discounting as yet,” she adds. “The signs are that consumers are still prepared to pay a premium for these products.”
Calder at Kopparberg agrees. “As fruit cider attracts made wine duty, and we import it from Sweden, Kopparberg has a premium price, which consumers are will- ing to pay,” he says.
“Nobody wants to see fruit cider go the way of standard lager, where discounting has become the norm.”
The popularity of fruit ciders has led to another Swedish brand chancing its arm. Proof Drinks is bringing Briska to the off- trade after a period of on-trade exclusivity.
Sales director Luke Wade says: “Consumers are much more open to repertoire drinking these days and a high percentage would choose to drink cider on a number of different occasions, not just exclusively during the summer.
“Plus, in recent years there has been a surge in the number of winter and summer ciders introduced as seasonal variants, which clearly demonstrates a demand for cider all year round.”
Copping agrees the fruit cider opportunity isn’t just for the summer. “There has certainly been a trend towards more exotic flavours in many different categories,” she says, “which is why we’ve brought out Passionfruit this summer, but I think we will see more autumnal and winter ciders enter the category in the future.”
One of the downsides to all this activity and demand is how retailers accommodate fruit ciders within an ever more crowded fixture trying to make room for the plentiful offshoots of an increasingly fragmented long alcoholic drinks market.
Porter at Heineken says: “We work closely with retailers to ensure ranges and displays offer hassle-free shopping.
“Simple principles, such as stocking the national leading brands, merchandising similar formats such as cans and bottles together and always stocking price-marked packs are crucial.
“However, the most important factor in helping to drive sales of any cider, even over price, is that retailers keep products chilled as shoppers are often looking to consume these items immediately after purchase.
“In fact, research has shown that 80% of convenience shoppers buying beer and cider will consume their purchase within two hours of picking it up, with a quarter of cider shoppers saying they are willing to pay more for a chilled product.”
Henry Chevallier Guild, partner in Suffolk cider firm Aspall, which markets the pre- mium Perronelle’s Blush brand, says retailers need to be choosy about which fruit ciders they give house room to, in a bid to ensure some longevity in the market.
“Our advice would be to ensure the flavoured ciders you do offer are of a premium quality and provide a genuine point of difference,” he says.
“If the products are strong, sales will not start to diminish when the next flavoured launch comes to market. Perronelle’s Blush was launched in 2007 and is still performing extremely well.
“If the quality isn’t there, however, consumers will quickly get bored of a particular flavour and move on to whatever the latest flavour launch is, before then moving on to the next when that one no longer excites them,” Chevallier Guild adds.
Copping at Rekorderlig says the company recognises the pressure on retailers and the dangers of flooding the market with too many products.
“There is only so much space on the shelf or in the fridge,” she says, “which is why we’re pursuing a policy of bringing in a limited edition for the summer, which is Passionfruit this year, and substituting it with Winter, before bringing in another limited edition for next summer.
“We’re working with retailers to look at ways of bringing in innovation without making the fixture unmanageable.”
But for some in the industry the spectre of the demise of RTDs on the back of unsustainable product ranges looms over fruit cider.
Chevallier Guild says: “We would issue a note of caution on the development of fruit ciders and believe it won’t be long until that part of the market reaches saturation point.
“With producers continually throwing another fruit variant into the mix for what seems to be just for a new launch’s sake, this does not add any value or breadth to the category.
“On the contrary, it devalues it and runs the risk of appearing to be very similar to what happened with alcopops.
“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.”
In other words, if there are too many fruit ciders that aren’t pulling their weight, retailers have every right to point the dreaded finger and utter the immortal words: “You’re fired.”