The cider category is still in decline (down 2% in value), but the traditional premium sector is in strong growth, up more than 6% year on year (IRI, year to July 2016).
Last year saw a big focus on premium and limited editions while two producers – Thatchers and Heineken – have kicked off 2017 with a raft of NPD.
At the end of 2016 Thatchers introduced a new series of special vintage, limited-edition ciders under the Cider Barn brand: Spartan (5.2% abv), Redstreak (8.4% abv) and Morgan Sweet & Grenadier (7.4% abv) each tell a story about the apple varieties used.
Managing director Martin Thatcher says: “The trends are all about going back to cider’s roots to embrace the drink’s heritage.
“We are seeing consumers increasingly turn to apple cider and in particular they have embraced contemporary apple cloudy cider, such as our Thatchers Haze, over the past year.
“Alongside cloudy cider, we expect to see a continued trend for craft and artisanal ciders, just as has been the case in the craft beer sector.”
For 2017 Thatchers has also just unveiled its Stan’s range, a new name for its traditional ciders which include Big Apple, Trad and Cheddar Valley, as well as new canned variants Leaf Twister (5% abv) and Barrel Roller (6% abv).
Heineken, producer of Bulmers, also has NPD lined up for 2017. It plans to ramp up its focus on experimenting with cider at its new pilot plant in Herefordshire, which will allow for smaller batch productions.
Its first piece of NPD is the launch of Bulmers Orchard Pioneers, which will initially comprise two variants: Sarah’s Red Apple and Kier’s Cloudy Apple, each in 50cl bottles. The ciders come from two farms around Herefordshire.
Emma Sherwood-Smith, Heineken brands director for cider, says: “Our research shows there are a lot of younger consumers in mainstream cider and older ones who seek out artisanal brands, yet there is nothing much in between this as there is in beer.
“Cloudy apple is a good opportunity to fill that space in between the two sub-segments of cider, and drive new people into the category. These ciders are a bit more grown up and should suit those aged 25 to 44 years-old.”
The drinks are also expected to appeal slightly more to male consumers as they are more aligned with ales and beers.
Heineken also has plans for its Stassen brand, which it says has more female appeal. The larger sharing format sees more competition from lower-alcohol wines and Prosecco.
“Stassen has been on trial in Sainsbury’s and we are now ready to roll it out in 2017,” says Sherwood- Smith.
We can also expect to see some new brands hailing from Brothers, following its purchase of the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill from C&C Group last October. The company says it has five times the capacity of its current premises, as well as a canning, kegging and PET line.
“With our new facility we plan to further innovate within cider and launch new products within Brothers as well as completely new brands,” says chief executive Matthew Showering.
Similarly, new ciders have been promised by Sandford Orchards, which also plans to introduce its craft Pioneer series to more customers in 2017. The three- strong range, launched in 2016, aims to showcase the “multiple personalities” of cider.
Also planning a big push for 2017 is Aston Manor with its Friels First Press Vintage range.
Cidermaker Glen Friel says: “One of the big trends at the moment that is likely to extend into 2017 is the rising consumer interest in provenance and quality. Consumers are drinking less in terms of volume but spending more on quality.”
Rob Salvesen, customer marketing manager at Kopparberg, believes that the rise of craft and heritage will be a trend to keep an eye on over the next year.
“Kopparberg is independently owned and the products are brewed in Sweden and imported into the UK. This is something that resonates hugely with our consumers.
“Other trends which are hard to ignore are the rise of low-calorie and no-alcohol propositions.”
Angela Clay, head of off-trade at Westons Cider, agrees that craft cider is “definitely here to stay”.
She says: “It answers the consumer need for premium products which offer genuine quality and authenticity, as well as providing consumers with something a little different which challenges their tastes.”
New flavours are not appearing as rapidly, but there is still some innovation in this arena.
Rekorderlig added a seasonal variant, Spiced Plum, in October 2016 and Ali Pickering, its brand director at Molson Coors, says it will continue to innovate in 2017 with new flavours.
Diageo GB added three new flavours to its Pimm’s Cider Cup range last year, while its Smirnoff Cider concept. in two variants, was introduced last June.
Claire O’Neill, Diageo innovation commercialisation manager, says flavoured ciders are “successfully recruiting a new generation into the category”.
And finally, brewer Shepherd Neame says it has more multiple national listings in the pipeline for its Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Cider this year. The American premium craft cider brand from Bost