“If you can only select one retail sector, it would have to be supermarkets,” says Debs Carter, marketing director for alcohol at Merrydown supplier SHS Drinks.
“But this is purely down to the amount of space they are able to dedicate to the cider category and the recognition they are able to give to the different sub-sectors, for example heritage, craft, contemporary, fruit and imported.
“However, we believe that most retailers, including the supermarkets, underestimate the role of heritage ciders.”
Chris Hill, chief executive of Orpens Cider, says: “The supermarkets are doing a great job of selling cider, particularly the better-known brands, and there is an opportunity for them to grow their categories positively by expanding their range of more crafted and premium ciders.
“On the other hand, the independents that are keen on cider continue to push new and up-and-coming producers, which is excellent.”
Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher tips supermarket-owned convenience stores as “ones to watch”.
“They are beginning to merchandise their cider in a way that appeals to more people,” he says.
Henney's Cider owner Mike Henney says: "All convenience formats could benefit by offering genuine craft-produced cider. Convenience purchases are often for an individual treat and frequently for a meal accompaniment, so this is an opportunity to trade up in both quality and value."
When it comes to craft cider, a different picture emerges, with independents rated most highly.
Simon Reed, managing director of Kent-based Rough Old Wife Cider, says: “In terms of giving customers information on local artisan real ciders I would say knowledgeable independent off-licences do the best. We supply a few in Kent and they always do well for sales. The next best are farm shops, for the same reasons.”
James Forbes, sourcing director for Blue Fruits, which recently launched craft cider Planetbee – which donates a percentage of all its sales to the Friends of the Honey Bee fundraising campaign – says: “In terms of craft cider, it’s a mixed bag and there are some in all sectors doing it well but also doing it badly. That said, true craft cider remains virgin territory for the UK’s large retail chains.”
Aspall account controller Jon Hopkins says: “Some great advances have been made in signposting the craft category. Retailers have worked especially hard on regionality and consumer understanding.”
Westons head of sales Geoff Bradman says: “Merchandising is mixed across retailers – some do an excellent job while others are poor.”
“Examples of poor merchandising include mixing premium and mainstream ranges and mixing cans and bottles. The independent trade does have an advantage over supermarkets in that ranges are smaller, so they are more easily merchandised, and they have refrigeration more readily available.”
So what more can retailers do to make the most of cider sales? Giving more space to craft cider tops our poll, with 75% of the vote, followed by more space for cider in general (67%), better POS and signposting (67%) and more chilled cider (58%).
Other ideas included changing the layout of the cider aisle (33%), more space for fruit and flavoured cider (17%), changing the position of the cider aisle (8%), more space for canned cider (8%) and better deals and offers (8%).
Suppliers also said retailers should do more to teach consumers about cider styles, and offered to give their customers more advice about storing unusual products, such as unpasteurised ciders.
Halewood International innovation director Richard Clark said: “Given the fierce competition within the category, retailers would do well to give prominence to craft ciders as well as the nationally advertised brands, and endeavour not to duplicate the contemporary cider flavours to maintain even and healthy competition.
“With the increasing number of regional and international craft ciders emerging, there needs to be a dedicated space in store to accommodate these as well as relevant POS material dotted around in store.”
Merrydown’s Carter says: “Offering a range of pack formats is crucial in the cider category as the choice of pack tends to be the first decision a consumer makes before going on to choose sweet or dry, mainstream or heritage ciders.
“Bottles and cans appeal to different consumers and different consumption occasions, so to make it easier for shoppers to find their way around the cider fixture, block- merchandise by pack format.”
She adds: “There’s a great deal of interest around food-matching drinks – not just wine, but also beer and cider which offer a wide spectrum of flavours to complement different dishes.
“Off-licence retailers could enhance the customers’ shopping experience by, for example, featuring shelf-strip tasting notes, food-matching suggestions which can be found on a lot of brands’ websites, and even seasonal recipes and tips within the cider fixture.”
Flavoured ciders and cans are driving growth in a market that saw a surprise slump this summer, according to Nielsen.
Off-trade cider sales dropped 3% in the 12 weeks to August 16, although sales were up 4% on an MAT basis.
Nielsen senior client manager Rob Zielski says: “There are a number of factors that will have contributed to this, including a slightly milder summer than last year, after June, and a focus on World Cup deals in retailers, which are predominantly on lager.”
Even flavoured ciders – driving the category with annual sales up 40% – saw growth slow to 21% in the past 12 weeks.
Pear cider has seen steep drops, with sales down 34% this summer and 27% over the year, but apple has also slipped, its sales falling 8% over the summer and 1% from last year.
Some suppliers say fruit and flavoured sales are over- represented on retail fixtures.
Glen Friel, sales and marketing director at Aston Manor, says: “Fruit ciders represent around 26% of the SKus on a cider fixture, yet about 11% of the volume sold – so the right balance has to be struck. What drives consumer appeal is the breadth of the category and the innovation and investment of cidermakers, so reflecting that in the range is important.”
Another key trend in cider is growth in canned sales, which were up 12% in the year to August 16, although that slowed to 4% over the summer, Nielsen has reported.
Craft cider: the next big thing?
Craft cider is on the rise – 70% of cider suppliers say it is an important growth market, and another 30% say it is the next big thing for the category. Even Tesco is interested.
Cider buyer Olivia Christou tells OLN: “As customers continue to grow increasingly interested in the heritage of their cider, how it is being produced and the importance of quality British ingredients, craft cider will continue to thrive. Realistically, the market will eventually reach a saturation point, but at the moment it remains an important part of our fixture, and is being given more space in the BWS aisle.”
Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher says: “There’s a renewed interest in craft cider - just as there has been in craft beer – and as the on-trade is embracing the variety and innovation that comes through from craft cidermakers, so the off-trade will increasingly look to craft ciders as consumers seek to recreate the pub experience in the comfort of their own home.”
Westons head of sales Geoff Bradman says: “The market continues to premiumise and consumers are increasingly interested in provenance and authenticity – and craft cider fits into this area. However, without the right level of consumer education and range explanation, the craft sub-category could find development difficult.”
Simon Reed, managing director of Kent craft cider producer Rough Old Wife, says the product is growing its share of the market.
“As an example, Kent now has 17 producers collectively producing more than 1.2 million litres, which is a doubling of producer numbers in eight years and a fourfold increase in volume. This is reflected in many other counties and means real ciders are getting towards 10% of volume, compared to probably less than 2% eight years ago.”
Suppliers are keen to see craft ciders merchandised in convenience stores, where more affluent shoppers can be encouraged to trade up to them.
Aston Manor sales and marketing director Glen Friel says: “Artisan and quality ciders from producers of all scales have great potential as consumers continue to take an interest in the quality and provenance of their food and drink.
“We know that cider has strong appeal in this regard and we, like others, are producing some outstanding products that we know people enjoy.
“The opportunity here is with genuinely premium brands and also top quality own-label products, where we are especially strong.”
But some raise concerns that big businesses moving into this niche arena are diluting the market with products that are not genuinely artisan.
Henney’s owner Mike Henney says: “A growing number of pseudo-craft ciders are being levered into the market and they are limiting the opportunity for the genuine products.
“Also, a number of buyers from major retailers have told me that craft cider is not a segment of the category they are developing.
“Despite this, it seems inevitable that with all the new recruits to the category in recent years there will be a significant number who will graduate from the more mainstream products to seek out genuine craft-produced cider.”
Halewood International innovation director Richard Clark notes: “Over the past five years we have seen a growing change in the cider category with brands constantly re-energising and reinventing themselves to keep up with the changing market.
“Craft cider is thought of and marketed towards an older market, so perhaps more messaging needs to be directed to a younger demographic to make them aware of the ciders available.”
And James Forbes of Planetbee producer Blue Fruits says: “Sourcing fruit is the main issue that will hamper speedier growth. Cider apples are not a lucrative crop, and most of the acreage under cider apple orchard is owned or managed under contract by the large cider producers.”