NPD and a focus on quality not price is changing consumer perception of cider.

Cider is shaking up its image in a bid to attract a more upmarket audience. Manufacturers are taking steps to improve consumer perception, and their new-found confidence has resulted in new premium ciders, which will be vying for drinkers’ attention.

Until the past year or so, makers were investing in price rather than NPD. “The cider industry got itself into the situation where it was the cheapest way of getting drunk,” admits Gaymer’s managing director John Mills. “The industry has been obsessed in flogging volume at the expense of any kind of category work.”

Adds Merrydown managing director Chris Carr: “It seemed all the cider companies wanted to do was churn out low-priced product. People thought cider was about three-litre bottles being drunk on the park bench.”
Cider had an image of being for down-and-outs and under-age drinkers, agrees Craig Clarkson, Scottish Courage’s head of customer marketing for off-trade.

The supplier started the turnaround when it ditched the ‘extra fill’ in its mega PET White Lightning bottles, and since then it has helped push the category toward premium. Massive ad support has helped the image change, plus £27m of marketing spend on its brands this year.

Martin Thatcher, managing director of Thatchers, has noticed increased consumer interest in cider over the past year. “It’s a very exciting time for the industry,” he says. “There’s massive potential as we’re only one-tenth the size of the beer market.”

Merrydown’s Carr believes shoppers are now more likely to think about different brands. “They are prepared to pay slightly more for a premium drink in a glass bottle. It’s now more about taste and differentiation.” Scottish Courage managing director sales Keith Hogg adds: “We will use NPD as an opportunity to go back to the retailer and look at the overall category.”

To reinforce this, Strongbow Sirrus, a 5% ABV bottled cider targeted at 18-30-year-olds, launches next month, and Clarkson says it should bring into the category young people who have drifted into RTDs. “We’re making cider more acceptable to drink again,” he says.
Meanwhile, Magners Irish Cider has just launched in the off-trade in London and South East. The 4.5% ABV brew is one of the best-selling packaged beers or ciders in the area and has a 24% market share of the Scottish on-trade.

A spokeswoman says: “It’s totally revitalised and premiumised the cider category, and people drink it like they do Guinness in Irish bars.”

Drinkers are encouraged to serve both these products with ice, which will be a key marketing strategy, says Clarkson: “People really want chilled drinks these days.”

The industry is clearly determined to give the category a boost and that’s starting to make an impact on sales; according to AC Nielsen cider is up 0.15% in volume in the year to June 11 from -2.5% the year before.

Strongbow showed a growth of 9.2% but its Woodpecker brand is down 11% in the same period.

White Lightning has dipped 6.7% since Scottish Courage dropped the free offers.

However, Constellation Europe’s Diamond White, Blackthorn and Gaymers Olde English are all showing decline (-17.5%, -11.8% and -4.2% respectively).
Gaymer’s Mills says: “The industry has spent too much on trade discounts. Now we’re more about building brands.”

Cider is hugely important to c-stores, which contribute 57% of total sales.

However, Scottish Courage says retailers often get merchandising wrong. Says Craig Clarkson: “They need to ask themselves: do they have the right range and are they offering the right kind of promotions?”

Merrydown boss Chris Carr adds that c-strores often sell only white cider: “They’re not doing enough to sell a more premium range, but it would add more value for them and bring in a slightly different clientèle.”
Clarkson says: “The c-store sector already trades strongly in cider, because of cider sold in PET. It shows there’s opportunity to trade people up.”

And Martin Thatcher urges retailers to give shoppers more choice: “You need to offer a broad range so that there’s the two-litre PETs and the 500ml bottles.”