Cider: the gift that keeps on giving

Continuing efforts at innovation in cider are ensuring its places as a year-round drink, and Christmas is no exception
18 October, 2016

It's a transitional period for cider. The category is declining 2% each year yet the market has never seemed so dynamic. Meanwhile the level of commitment from producers - both in terms of marketing spend and NPD – is a clear indication that there’s money to be made from cider.

Within retail some cider styles are flying off the shelves. The traditional premium sector is in strong growth at 6% year on year (IRI, year to July 16, 2016), flavoured ciders continue to woo younger fans, and the word “craft” is also increasingly being linked to the cider category.

“People are drinking less in terms of volume, but better in terms of quality,” says Angela Clay, Westons head of off-trade.

And as part of this transition, the category does at last appear to be losing its fixation with the summer months with clear signs that cider is being enjoyed all year-round, although retailers may need to make a few changes to the shelves in preparation for the cooler months. 

Rob Salveson, customer marketing manager at Kopparbeg, says: "While fruit cider sells more in the summer, it is still a very successful and profitable category throughout the winter months and retailers should ensure they stock a well throught-through fruit cider range with a few considerations."

Ali Pickering, brand director portfolio at Molson Coors, suggests retailers stock limited-edition and seasonal SKUs.

"Premium cider has continued to perform well - consumers are happy to pay more for better quality drinks, and this is never more the case than at Christmas, so retailers should reflect this and give prominence to quality variants over the festive period.”

Glen Friel, sales & marketing director at Aston Manor Cider, asserts that premium ciders work through autumn and winter. He notes: “Premium ciders are often savoured and sipped and, like ale or wine, are enjoyed by many for their richness and complexity.”

And Martin Thatcher, fourth- generation cidermaker at Thatchers Cider, agrees that consumers tend to match the cider to the season. “Thatchers Vintage is one of our ciders that always goes down well in the winter months – a full-bodied, full-flavour cider at 7.4%.” He adds that Christmas is now one of the largest cider-drinking periods of the year.

Another point to note for this time of year comes from Amanda Grabhamm SHS Drinks head of marketing for Merrydown. She says: "75cl sharing bottles really do come into their own at Christmas because people socialise more over the festive period."


A host of new flavours have kept this category from going stale but it’s not just about flavours – the category has always been one of the more dynamic areas of alcohol when it comes to NPD. This summer alone we have seen the Kopparkeg from Kopparberg and a raft of brands moving into cans.

Kopparberg’s 5-litre keg concept was designed as a sharing concept – specifically for the producer’s fastest growing variant, Strawberry & Lime. It hit the shelves for a limited time from July and was so successful that the company has promised the format will return soon.

And 2016 also marks the year when the category started to tap into the success of the canned format, which has already been working for craft beer.

Orchard Pig launched its first cans in May. “Catering to the modern craft movement is a must,” says founder Andrew Quinlan. “Drinkers are looking for new and better choices in the products they buy, regardless of what time of year it is. Retailers can tap into this by remembering what a versatile ingredient the apple is.

While fruit ciders may be dominating the sweeter styles, there’s a lot of scope for apple ciders to provide a greater appeal and increase the refreshment options in off-licences. We have done this by producing more radical one-offs, such as Marmalade cider, Ginger & Chilli and our own sloeberry Dark Cider the Moon.”

Thatchers has had a canned format for its Gold for a while now. “The versatility of cans means they are suitable for many occasions and multipacks are perfect for Christmas parties,” adds Thatcher.

Westons also ventured into cans this year with a range of craft ciders for the off-trade under the Caple Rd and Rosie’s Pig brands. The collection also includes Pure Hopped, a hopped cider collaboration with Purity Brewing Co.

Cans also emerged from Aston Manor’s portfolio. The producer extended its small-batch craft cider brand, Friels First Press Vintage, with a 33cl format, as well as a new hops-infused flavour. It says it plans to extend the range further next year.

Aston Manor also added a 2.5-litre bag-in-box to its Knights Malvern Gold brand, as well as a 50cl glass bottle option.

New formats also came from Brothers – the producer added one litre resealable Festival Apple Cider cartons. 

Meanwhile, in April, brewer Shepherd Neame made its first move into the cider market with the launch of premium craft cider Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, the number one cider brand in the US. The Kent-based brewer imports and distributes the brand in the UK for the Boston Beer Company.

Another newcomer arrived from Northern Ireland, from its largest cidermaker, Armagh Cider.

The company launched its Carsons Cider and Doyles flavoured ciders into the UK off-trade this September. Doyles is a range of craft ciders devised to appeal to 18 to 35-year-olds.

And a final newcomer to note hails from Strongbow producer Heineken. The drinks giant’s latest cider NPD was revealed in September as Blind Pig, a liquor-flavoured cider inspired by American 1920s speakeasies. Blind Pig comes in Bourbon & Blueberry, Whiskey, Honey & Apple and Rum & Poached Pear.


Producers are also supporting the category with big marketing spends. Throughout this year Kopparberg made its biggest annual investment in marketing with £6 million spent on its campaign across TV, digital, outdoor and in-store.

And Orchard Pig has also invested this year. It signed a three-year deal to become the official cider at the Wilderness music festival. Quinlan adds: “We are in a really good place as a company and driving cider consumption at Wilderness up 17% is a fantastic achievement.”

Festivals also work well for Brothers Cider. The producer attended music festivals across the country this summer, supported by national on-pack promotions to give away 5,000 festival-themed kits.

And Westons has been investing in its premium brand, Henry Westons Vintage, which it says recorded its best-ever year this year, growing by 12%.

Westons ran its first TV campaign for the brand this summer as part of a £1 million investment in the brand.

A TV campaign also continued for Thatchers Gold, while in August the producer launched its first online film campaign for Thatchers Haze, linking the brand to music.

Meanwhile, Aston Manor says it “invested significantly” this year, particularly in adding new packaging formats.

As part of this, the producer says it made a “dedicated record investment” to its flagship cider brand, Kingstone Press, across Rugby League. The brand is now the principal partner of the England team, under a two-year deal.

On-pack promotions will be released to coincide with the Four Nations event, offering consumers the chance to win a trip to next year’s Rugby League World Cup in Australia, and a 2017 season ticket.


Producers are adamant that cider is not just for summer, and their winter-specific activity proves their commitment to this. Kopparberg says it will continue to support Spiced Apple. The company says the seasonal variant is now double the size of its nearest winter fruit competitor, according to IRI data, and it can be served warm or cold.

Rekorderlig has shelved its Winter Cider variant this year and replaced it with a limited-edition Spiced Plum option.

Ali Pickering, brand director portfolio at Molson Coors, says: “Rekorderlig has an unparalleled commitment to extending the cider season beyond summer, and its pioneering Winter Cider contributed roughly £4.5 million in retail sales since 2013 and nearly a million litres have been sold, showing that consumers are really engaged in seasonal cider.”

Brothers also has a seasonal option and plans to be at Winter Wonderland events this year showcasing its hot serve, a blend of warm Toffee Apple Cider with spiced rum and cinnamon.

“Creating a mulled cider display can be an effective way of driving cider sales,” says chief executive Matthew Showering.

Friel at Aston Manor also points to mulled cider as a great winter option. “When it is cold outside warm, mulled cider is fantastic and easy to prepare – the spiced flavours reflect the winter while the warming cider makes it particularly enjoyable in cold weather. As a blended, bittersweet cider, Kingstone Press is a great base for mulled cider.”

Meanwhile Andrew Quinlan at Orchard Pig reminds retailers that more unusual flavours, such as its Marmalade or Sloeberry variants, can be good for winter. “The more overt and obvious the offer, particularly in months when the sun isn’t blisteringly hot, the more successful the uptake,” he says.

Cider can also be a good cocktail ingredient or food pairing drink during the winter months and the Christmas party season, according to Shepherd Neame national off-trade controller Claire Young. “Wintery flavours such as cinnamon and orange work really well with cider in a cocktail.” She points to its bespoke cocktail Angry Apple Pie, a blend of its cider, amaretto, orange juice and cinnamon schnapps. She also recommends being creative in store with food pairings, such as with a Christmas cheese board.

Thatchers also has a series of cocktail recipes, including one for an Apple Martini using Thatchers Gold, while Merrydown has a series of traditional recipes with a cider twist.

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