The turnaround in cider's fortunes has turned the beverage from being a favourite with the get-drunk-quick crowd to a respectable long drink served over ice. However, certain cider manufacturers fear that too many c-stores are catering too much for the former consumers and not enough for the latter.
"Historically, independents haven't stocked premium cider, but with the resurgence of the category, it offers a cracking opportunity for them," says Merrydown managing director Chris Carr.
Gaymer Cider Company managing director John Mills adds: "Once again the impulse sector is lagging behind the supermarkets and the pubs. Go into Tesco, Sainsbury's and especially Morrisons and you'll see a good premium range. Why doesn't a cash and carry fixture look like that? Overall, the cider market is up 26%, but in impulse it's up just 11%. In the on trade it's up 30% and the multiples up 25%. We need to say to cash and carries 'This is the fastest growing category in alcohol so what's your plan to capitalise on this?' They need to make sure it is featured front of depot and on promotional ends."
This isn't the first time that cash and carries have been criticised by cider manufacturers for focusing too much on white ciders at the expense of the premium amber ones, but Landmark Wholesale trading controller Jim Brown believes that they are giving retailers what they want: "Landmark members recognise the importance of the emerging premium cider brands and have been stocking them for some time. However, the socio-economic bias of our retailers' customers does not lend itself to the consumption of this style of drink, which is why we don't currently enjoy the same share of this sector as we do of everyday cider brands."
Roopinder Toor, licensed trade controller at Bestway, says his branches stock all the main brands of cider for which there's a demand in the independent sector. As for white cider, he says it remains an important part of the category.
When it comes down to specific brands, Carr says Merrydown has been enjoying strong sales growth in the grocery multiples (up 34% in value terms in the eight weeks to June 2007) but in independents it's a different story: "We used to be the only cider in glass in the sector; now there's Magners and Bulmers. Our sales in independents are up just 1%, which is disappointing. Independents are a hard area to crack. You go into most independents and you're faced with a big range of lltr and 2ltr white ciders. Yes, 30% of all cider sold is white cider, but retailers do need to reduce the number of facings. They've got to remember that white cider consumers are not brand loyal - they just want a white cider. They need to allocate more space to premium brands."
S&N UK head of customer marketing Craig Clarkson says: "While white cider still has a legitimate role for consumers seeking value for money, it's a category that needs careful management, both from a producer and retailer perspective." He points out that S&N removed the extra-free element from White Lightning two years ago, "effectively increasing the price by 50%". He adds: "Independents should take advantage of this opportunity to stock premium lines."
Carr recommends independents stock just one white cider, in 2ltr, 1ltr and 440ml cans, plus Bulmers Original or Magners in 500ml and Merrydown 1ltr original and dry.
He says another concern is promotions not being passed on to the end consumer: "We work very hard with the symbol groups on this, but in the cash and carry trade there is no particular way to control this. However, we are launching a pricemarked pack at £1.89 versus the typical £2.19-£2.29, which should help."
One issue that's worrying both Carr and Mills is the emergence of flavoured ciders - Carr in particular is worried that some companies are turning cider into alcopops: "Lots of people are jumping on the cider bandwagon - saying they are fruit ciders. But calling your drink a strawberry cider isn't allowed. By law it has to say 'cider with strawberry', so we will see quite a few packaging changes."
And Mills is concerned about labelling in general: "As an industry we need to make sure that labels are more responsible and don't just shout 'cheap alcohol'. We need to ensure that all the growth in the category is not suddenly thrown off the rails and the market is taken back to the gutter."
There's also worry about duty increases as this year saw the first increase on cider in five years. It was only at the rate of inflation, at just 1p a litre at retail, but it's definitely an area to watch. Indeed, Scottish health minister Andy Kerr is calling for further increases in duty to prevent cider being sold for less than a large bottle of Coke or water, as it is now. Warns Carr: "Ready-to-drinks were subject to a 20% increase in duty and that effectively killed the market."
Onto some good news, and the industry reckons the over-ice phenomenon is here to stay. Says Carr: "At last the Great British public has got their heads around cold drinks so, just as with a G&T, consumers expect to get cider served very cold, in a chilled glass or over ice. I've seen guys in their forties and fifties drinking it like this."
So the on trade has 'got' the importance of chilled cider; it's just the c-store industry that needs more persuading.
The National Association of Cider Manufacturers is co-funding a project with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council into the phenolic (antioxidant) levels of cider. Researchers have found that certain ciders contain equivalent levels of antioxidants as wine. They are now looking at how humans absorb phenolics and hope to highlight processes that would leave the highest levels of the antioxidants in the cider.
? Brothers will be running a £350,000 poster and online campaign from this month through July to complement its sponsorship of the Glastonbury festival. Brothers estimates that involvement in festivals will mean that the drink will have been sampled by 500,000 festival goers by the end of the summer.
? S&N is investing £25m in the 'over ice' cider sector this year to build on its 31% share of the fastest growing sector of the long alcoholic drinks market. Activity includes TV ads.
? Magners is hoping for another bumper summer with marketing support including a TV and poster campaign.
? Maguires is a new cider brand for the on- and off-trades from Halewood International. It comes in two variants - original (apple) and pear - in 500ml glass bottles with an abv of 4.5%. Rrp is about £1.49.
? Swedish cider brand Herrljunga is now available in the UK from Patriatrading Trading. Pronounced Herrunga, it comes in pear and apple.
? Jacques, the newest addition to S&N's cider portfolio, is now available nationally following its successful launch in Sainsbury's last year.