There’s no let up in developments in the cider category, with new fruit mixes and flavours vying for space with vintage and craft lines

The British love affair with cider continues, although growth is slowing. Within cider there’s still a lot of activity: heritage brands remain popular while more ‘craft’ and canned options are emerging. In addition, the convenience store is driving cider growth. Volume sales through convenience increased by 6.5% last year, while through multiple grocers it declined by 2.1% (Nielsen, MAT to 3 January 2015).

Flavoured options continue to pull in the crowds, but some predict a slowdown is on its way. “It’s all been about sickly-sweet, flavoured ciders over the past few years, but I believe that the popularity of these is beginning to wane,” says Morgenrot sales director Graham Archibald.

All of this means getting the range right in each store will need some planning.

Fruit and flavoured is one area to watch. Growth may start to slow, but at present fruit cider is growing 30% in the off-trade, and new flavours continue to appear.

Carlsberg UK, for example, has added new flavours to its Somersby Cider brand. David Scott, director of brand and insight, says: “We know there is a strong consumer desire for great-tasting fruit flavoured ciders and we’re confident our three new flavours will attract more consumers to the category.”

And Heineken brought out the 4% ABV Bulmers Cider Zesty Blood Orange earlier this year. Martin Porter, off-trade MD, says the new variant “has already performed brilliantly in consumer taste tests”.

Craig Clarkson, the company’s trade & category marketing director, also points out the market has a lot of sweet flavours, noting that “Blood Orange is a more mature flavour and it will be supported by a £5m campaign, plus on-pack promotions”.

Retailers confirm the popularity of flavours are driving sales.

Russell Dymond, beer and cider buyer for Conviviality Retail, which operates the Wine Rack and Bargain Booze brands, says: “Our biggest launch recently has been Bulmers Zesty Blood Orange.

“The fruit cider category also allows for easy innovation and we are expecting a number of high-profile launches over the next year from Magners, Bulmers and Pimm’s. In contrast to this growth, the representation of pear cider in the category is declining and we expect this to continue.”

Both AB InBev UK and Carling have chosen peach for their flavour launches this year, with the former bringing out both peach and also elderflower variants under its Stella Cidre brand.

For Molson Coors Brewing Co’s Carling British Cider, the Orchard Fruits variant, also launched in February, has peach as its lead flavour. UK customer marketing director Alpesh Mistry says: “We are not a business who will keep adding flavours - we will do so as long as there is a category need for it.”

He explains that the original apple variant still makes up a big percentage of its sales, although 20% of its volume sales are now down to the cherry flavour, which has attracted younger drinkers.

Lower alcohol

The Swedish Cider Company notes that the demand for lower alcohol options could give its 4% ABV älska brand further appeal.

The company has five flavours in its range - Lemon & Ginger, Nordic Berries, Strawberry & Lime - and two new seasonal flavours Pear & Lychee and Peach & Raspberry.

The flavours are drier than other fruit ciders and intended to appeal even to those who wouldn’t normally drink cider. The ciders are available in cans and bottles. The new sleek can format is designed to appeal to the convenience and al fresco market, as well as being ideal for festivals and picnics, the company says.

Lower calorie and lighter drinks are also appearing elsewhere.

C&C recently added a new low-calorie range to its existing Magners Original Light (4% abv). The new flavours, Pear Light (4.5% abv) and Orchard Berries Light (4% abv), both offer 30% fewer calories than the originals.

Meanwhile, berry flavours have been successful for many. Ed Shoebridge, head of customer marketing at C&C Group, notes: “In recognition of fruit cider’s popularity and drinkers’ interest in new pack formats, we launched new-look Magners Orchard Berries (abv 4%) into the UK off-trade last summer.”

Berry flavours have also helped reignite sales for Heineken’s Strongbow brand; its Strongbow Dark Fruits variant being a star performer within fruit flavoured ciders since its 2013 launch.

Jimmy Dhaliwal, who runs a Bargain Booze store in Atherton, Warwickshire, says Dark Fruit was one of his store’s best-sellers last year in cider, despite years of sluggish sales for the original Strongbow brand. Kopparberg flavours also did well in his store.

For Kopparberg, the fastest growing pack has been its Mixed Fruit 4x330ml, “which works well in the convenience sharing occasion”, according to head of marketing Rob Calder. “In terms of single bottles, Strawberry & Lime is now our best seller in convenience,” he explains.

Others have reported success with more unusual flavours. Brothers says its Toffee Apple cider is now its biggest selling SKU, while its other flavours also have a good fan base. This year the company brought out Strawberry & Kiwi, as well as Coconut & Lime (both retailing at £2.29 for a 500ml bottle).

“We have seen great success with our unique Toffee Apple cider and feel it’s important to offer customers something different to the many red berry liquids now available,” says managing director Matthew Showering.

For retailers, stocking all of these variants is near impossible. Kay Patel, who runs four Bestway-supplied stores in East London, admits he has had to cut the Kopparberg lines he stocks due to the number of flavour variants.

“Swedish ciders do sell well, but I can’t stock any more of the new Rekorderligs that look interesting for example, because there’s no more space.”

Debs Carter, marketing director (alcohol) at SHS Drinks, says convenience stores should consider stocking limited editions in order to keep up with flavour trends, as well as varying flavours to reflect the seasons.

“Flavours such as strawberry, peach and apricot tend to lend themselves more to the summer months, with ‘warmer’ flavours with spicier notes proving popular in the winter months.”

She says that Merrydown, which has a range of apple cider as well as a blackcurrant variant, had a strong year last year, driven by its new look and first advertising campaign for 15 years, along with other activity and food-matching initiatives.

Apple still core

While fruity flavours are in growth, apple still has the biggest slice in the UK off-trade, delivering more than £665m in value sales annually (CGA, 27 December 2014).

“Retailers should ensure they don’t neglect this core sub-category and stock up on apple cider in advance of the summer months,” says C&C’s Shoebridge.

And producers are still investing in apple. Thatchers’ two recent apple cider additions are designed to be easy-drinking for younger consumers. Thatchers Red, which comes in 500ml and 330ml glass bottles and also kegs, is a 4% ABV red apple cider made from Katy apples and Jonagold Red apples.

“As the only red apple cider in the category, with Thatchers Red we are continuing to innovate and celebrate what heritage cider should be about - apples,” says md Martin Thatcher. “Once again our cidermakers have come up with a new take on a classic cider.” Thatchers’ second newcomer, Somerset Haze, is a cloudy cider made with Discovery, Falstaff, Gala and Jonagold apples, packaged in 500ml bottles and 440ml cans.

“Somerset Haze gives those drinkers who are looking for an easy-drinking cloudy cider the opportunity to experience the premium taste of Thatchers,” he says.

Morgenrot’s Archibald is also confident about the future for apple ciders; the company’s Planetbee craft cider (made with organic English cider apples) was well received when it launched last year.

And in March premium Swedish cider Rekorderlig Cider launched Rekorderlig Dry Äpple in packs of four 330ml bottles.

“The market has been crying out for a modern and premium apple cider variant and this was the inspiration behind Rekorderlig Dry Äpple,” says Chilli Marketing global customer marketing manager John Logue.

Packs and formats

As shoppers’ trips to convenience stores are becoming more frequent, what you stock needs to reflect this, according to suppliers. “Retailers need to keep things interesting and fresh for the shopper, making their experience faster and more enjoyable,” says a spokesman at ABInBev.

Small packs of cider are therefore important, he says, particularly in the chilled section.

Dymond at Conviviality Retail suggests independents should include the top-performing brands in their core range, including premium, mid-range and value options. “Our franchisees also stock cider from traditional or smaller breweries such as Thatchers or Westons to offer a point of difference,” he says.

And Carter at SHS agrees that because there are now so many ciders to choose from, “it really is crucial to offer customers as much choice as space permits”.

She notes that with flavoured ciders now accounting for more than half of glass bottled cider sales through impulse stores (Nielsen), “50% of the glass bottled cider fixture space should be allocated to flavours other than apple or pear, with apple taking 40% of the space and pear the remaining 10%”.

She adds that when it comes to pack formats retailers should include cans, single-serve and also sharing bottles. She also predicts craft cider in cans will be a growth area for 2015 - a pattern already seen in the beer sector.

“Until recently Merrydown Cider was one of the few heritage cider brands available in cans, but with advances in can technology, cans are now gaining a more premium image and we are now seeing other craft ciders such as Westons adopt this packaging format. We expect to see more craft cider emerge in cans in the year ahead,” she says.

Others also point to the canned sector; it currently makes up 38% of the cider category, but is the fastest growing format. “Cans are unlocking value in the fruit-flavoured category, growing by 78% and £28m in the past year alone,” says Glen Friel, sales & marketing director at Aston Manor Cider. “Cans have made fruit cider more accessible - they’re more convenient and offer much better value for the consumer.”

The producer recently launched Frosty Jack’s Mixed Berry and Kingstone Press Wild Berry in can format.

Multipacks are another key opportunity, he says, noting that its Kingstone Press in a 12-pack canned format has been successful.

And Brookfield Drinks says the convenience sector is “vitally important” for its cider brands Diamond White and White Star. Its 500ml Diamond White cans are selling particularly well, says md Nigel McNally. “Both brands are listed in the top 10 canned ciders in the UK’s off-trade independent and convenience sector,” he says.

Rekorderlig also recently made some of its core flavours - Strawberry & Lime, Wild Berries and Mango & Raspberry - available in 330ml cans, in packs of four.

Thatchers is another that has been looking at the canned format. The producer recently announced its Old Rascal Cider would be moving into 440ml cans for the first time, to complement the existing 500ml bottle.

Molson Coors’ Mistry notes that the latest Nielsen data suggests that cans are becoming more important in cider, with the canned sector seeing good growth as people switch over from bottles.

Others are also positive about the potential of craft and global cider brands in the UK, particularly as many “pay homage” to the apple or pear, notes Morgenrot’s Archibald.

The company launched an Asturian Sidra last year called Avalon, and Archibald says interest for this brand so far has been “astounding”.

C&C says it has a range of craft ciders produced from its Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, such as Addlestones and a range of Chaplin & Cork’s ciders.

Spirit ciders join the fray

Spirit ciders or ‘spiders’ is one of the flavoured cider offshoots to keep an eye on.

The latest ‘spider’ emerged earlier this year from Diageo in the form of Pimm’s Cider Cup.

The 4% ABV drink blends the brand’s strawberry and cucumber flavours with British cider.

“Pimm’s will take cider to the next level, infusing it with the classic spirit, and opening a potential sales opportunity of more than £14m across the total trade,” says a Diageo spokesman.

In January Magners launched a 5.5% ABV variant flavoured with Irish whiskey. “Magners has been at the forefront of cider innovations since it revolutionised the category in the nineties with its over-ice serve, and now we are introducing another game changer, Magners with Irish Whiskey,” says Ed Shoebridge, head of customer marketing at brand owner C&C Group.

And Heineken has also brought out a cider blended with spirits. Blind Pig, named after prohibition-era USA drinking haunts, is a range of craft cider and spirit blends in Bourbon & Blueberry, Whisky, Honey & Apple, and Rum & Poached Pear. Initially the drink will be served as a premium drink in the on-trade.

Specialist, premium and heritage brands

Premium cider delivers growth, according to Thatchers’ md Martin Thatcher.

“With mainstream ciders in decline, it’s a range of Thatchers ciders on your shelves that will help you give your customers what they are asking for - a great tasting, higher quality cider to drink at home.”

The company’s flagship brand, Thatchers Gold, is achieving 32% year-on-year growth in the off-trade, he says.

Retailers agree premium ciders add value. Kay Patel in East London says: “It’s the cheaper end of flavoured ciders which is growing more for us, but there’s no value in it. Traditional ciders are where we can increase our profits.”

And at Bargain Booze, Jimmy Dhaliwal notes that “sales were strong for us last year for ciders at the premium end of the market, such as Aspall and Thatcher.”

Debs Carter at SHS Drinks also stresses the importance of stocking heritage ciders. “Heritage ciders, which include brands such as Merrydown, Westons, Thatchers and Aspall, are having a very positive impact on the category both in terms of performance and building a more premium image for cider,” she says.

“Value sales of heritage ciders have grown by more than 18% over the past two years (Nielsen), but they don’t always get the amount of shelf space on the cider fixture that they deserve, and this is one area, perhaps, for convenience retailers to focus on.”

Geoff Bradman, Westons head of sales, says the lookout at the moment is for something new and different, to grab people’s attention.

“The ‘craft’ emergence in terms of the trend for craft beer and craft cider is not the sort of threat we are talking about, since craft products are clearly attracting a different consumer set for different occasions,” he says.

“Within cider, we are seeing consumers who might have entered the market drinking a mainstream cider such as Blackthorn or Strongbow, being tempted to try a more premium cider, such as Stowford Press.”