After a decade of soaring growth, the category suffered volume and value declines in the past year as lager stole shoppers during the World Cup and the summer weather failed to sizzle.
Nielsen data for the year to February 2015 shows several brands suffering tanking sales: Bulmers is down 12.8%, Stella Cidre is down 6.4%, Magners is down 13.7% and own-label is down 11.5%.
Neil Robinson, head of off- trade at one of the few success stories, Kopparberg, which is up 11.4%, said: “Some of these brands have gone seriously low on price to drive them back into volume growth. Buyers are saying some cider is going down the route of lager.
“As volume declines and the industry goes harder and harder on price, you are chasing a rat down a hole. It’s becoming more and more competitive.”
In a separate project, Nielsen analysed the fruit cider category and found it grew from £163 million midway through 2013 to £238 million by the summer of 2014.
It analysed what drove this growth and divided its findings into four sections – health of the category, new shoppers, frequency of purchase, average weight of purchase and price.
It found three in positive growth, but price impacting negatively. The category gained £35.6 million through more shoppers, £10 million from people buying more frequently and £43 million came from people buying more on each trip. But £15 million was lost due to the average price decreasing.
Kopparberg’s head of marketing Rob Calder said: “Maybe it’s a category that’s maturing, more mainstream players such as Strongbow and Carling are coming in and stretching it, there is a proliferation of multipacks and more competitive pricing, an awful lot of three-for-£5.”
Fruit cider continues to be the star performer in cider, making up for declines in apple and pear, but the rapid growth seen in the past has been replaced by more modest gains in the past year.
Calder said: “The incredible success we have seen for a few years is beginning to slow and there is some work to make sure it grows in future.
“The category is the most competitive it’s ever been. Every week there’s another new drink or flavour variant coming out. At some point consumers are going to tire of variation. Innovation, not variation, is required for long-term health.”
Calder also pointed out that while the middle ground of Bulmers, Magners and Stella Cidre is being squeezed, value brands such as Frosty Jack’s and premium ciders from the likes of Westons and Thatchers are all enjoying strong growth.
He added: “In 2015 our vision is to be the UK’s leading cider brand choice, to overtake Bulmers in terms of penetration. We are not about chasing volume. We are not going to pile it high and sell it cheap.”
Kantar data to September 2014 shows that Bulmers has the highest consumer penetration of any cider brand, up 10%, followed by Kopparberg. The only major brand losing penetration is Magners.
“Kopparberg is the number two across all adults for penetration, and it is the number one for 18 to 34-year-olds,” said Calder.
“Our big challenge is taking it forward and making sure people stick with Kopparberg as they get older.”
Kopparberg ice pouches, new alcohol-free variants, a low- calorie Kopparberg Light drink and a winter push on mulled cider are all intended to drive growth in the brand in the year ahead.