Taste of things to come

03 October, 2008

Promoting and experimenting with flavour is the new kid on the block for a category that's been built around being chilled, says Nigel Huddleston

While the cider revolution was initially driven by the over-ice serve, its second phase seems certain to be more about the flavour of the liquid than how it's put in the glass.

From the cocktail boom to speciality beers, flavours and

their origins have become increasingly important part of drinks product stories - now it's cider's turn

and not before time.

Variations in cider style are often driven by local growing conditions and types of apple. In the south west, Somerset is home mainly to specifically cider apple varieties, which produce a dry, bittersweet style, with relatively high acidity and


farmyard-like character.

Over the border in Devon, more dessert fruit is used, which gives a softer and sweeter style.

Across on the other coast in East Anglia, there's a higher proportion of culinary apples, giving a crisper green apple style but with dessert apple sweetness, in the manner of Aspall or Addlestone's.

Cider's generally made by fermenting up to a higher abv at around 11-12% and then diluting back, just as whisky producers do with cask strength malt before bottling.

Most cider producers add sugar to balance the flavour, depending on the bitterness of the apple varieties used, though some use saccharine which gives a more confected character.

Some brands, including Merrydown, cut the strength by adding apple juice, which can give a more apple fruit style, though again often with extra sweetness.

On the world stage

There are national variations in style as well as UK regional ones. French ciders tend to more complexity and a lighter sparkling wine-style fizz, often from the use of Champagne yeast in fermentation. Producers are bound by law only to use 100% juice, unlike the UK where concentrate is allowed.

Swedish brands such as +46 and Kopparberg are sweeter with the fruit more upfront, while South Africa's Savanna is also fruit forward but drier, though following its lemon-wedge suggested serve offsets some of this.

Davin Nugent, managing director of Kopparberg firm Cider of Sweden, says the water used to cut the abv from its post-fermentation level influences the brand's style.

"Kopparberg is in one of the few natural soft water regions in Europe," he says, "which gives the cider a soft note. We don't have to add anything to the water which means we get more of the taste of the fruit coming through."

Understanding the differences in taste as well as the marketing of different brands can be the key to building a successful range. Just as in speciality beer or malt whisky, variety gives you the opportunity to trade customers across the range.

It also means you can guide different customer groups to particular styles, though most producers say it's difficult to pigeon-hole ages or genders into different flavour profiles in cider.

John Mills, Gaymer's managing director, says: "Women might prefer something a bit more apple-y, though not necessarily sweet, while the drier, more rustic styles are male and older, though there are no hard and fast rules."

The interest in cider flavour has encouraged some bigger producers to play with the generic mainstream medium dry style.

Thatchers has led the way in single varietal ciders and oak-ageing, done in huge vats at its Somerset cider mill both for its own and third party brands.

"For the varietals, we try to pick a variety each year, often based on the quality and availability of the apple crop," says managing director Martin Thatcher.

"With Cox's we do an arrested fermentation, rather than letting it ferment through, which gives it a little bit of extra residual sweetness.

"We just want to show that ciders can taste quite different, and if you have a wide enough range of styles you can usually find something to suit everybody."

Thatcher's has also played with apple-growing conditions, planting Prince William on a heavy clay soil to extract more character from the fruit.

Thatcher adds that oak gives the company "a distinctive deeper fruity style".

Wood has a role in Magners too. "A lot of the character comes from the micro-flora in the wood and the naturally-occurring yeast - rather than using a wine yeast - in our cider mill," says marketing manager Scott Fairbairn.

Magners also demonstrates the importance of the blending process in achieving most cider brands' individual styles. The product is made from a blend of the juice of 17 varieties of apple.

While Thatcher's has toyed with varieties, Gaymer has drilled down in the manner of single vineyard wines for its Orchard Reserve ciders.

Mills said the company was looking to move down from 75cl bottles to a smaller size to encourage trial of the products.

"All the wine writers get the concept," says Mills, "and we get it and consumer gets it when they try it.

"But the 75cl bottle doesn't give them an opportunity to trial it. Its rate-of-sale has suffered because it hasn't been able to be part of the pick and mix range in major retailers."

Getting people to try different ciders and

styles could

really help retailers - in particular independent niche stores - to make the most out of the boom . Retailers need to be prepared to persuade consumers that not all ciders taste the same - and to help them understand why.

The buyers' views

Ian Targett, Tesco

How many ciders are in your range? We have 85 different brands, flavours and types. Around 35 of these are locally-sourced and go to a specific region's stores. We have 104 lines in total.

How do your cider sales reflect growth in the cider market overall?

We are currently growing 16% faster than the rest of the major multiples, based on the last 52 weeks' value sales.

Which brands, pack formats and styles are the bestsellers or fastest growing?

Cider is growing across the entire spectrum, with the exception of white cider. Everyday canned and PET bottled cider are showing excellent growth, but are still being outstripped by the premium offerings. We are beginning to see more examples of previously single-bottled premium products expand into multipacks. Pear cider is undoubtedly having an impact this year, with several big players entering the market. I believe this has come about partly because of the terminology used - people clearly get the term pear cider, but perry is somewhat less widely understood. 

What developments have there been in your own-label cider range?

We have launched six new Tesco ciders, by working in conjunction with some of the

best cidermakers in Britain. These include three Tesco

Finest lines - a single varietal, an oak-aged and a traditional cloudy, all in 50cl size. We also brought our first organic cider to market. Also new for us was low-alcohol cider, and we launched mulled cider - the first

to be made commercially available.

Another key development is the first farm-assured Red Tractor cider - Farmer's Harvest - a collaboration between the National Farmers' Union and Sheppy's . We have also launched Magners Mid-Strength, again exclusively to Tesco. 

How has the involvement of cider in price and multibuy promotions changed in the past 12 months?

Cider has been fully involved at all levels of promotional activity for well over a year now.

Jill Wilson, Asda

How many ciders are in your range?

We have 40 SKUs, and have purposefully rationalised the range following customer feedback, so there is greater focus on shelf space, and availability, of the key brands that are important to customers.

How do your cider sales reflect growth in the cider market overall?

Our growth was 48% against market growth of 24%, based on Nielsen's 12 weeks to Aug 8.

Which brands, pack formats and styles are the bestsellers or fastest growing?

Asda has led the market in product innovation. We were the first multiple grocer to list Magners and led the market in providing premium over-ice ciders. This leadership in innovation and spotting trends has continued as we were again the first multiple grocer to spot and develop the pear cider trend .

What developments have there been in your own-label cider range?

We have introduced Asda fruit cider, which comes in 75cl bottles.

How has the involvement of cider in price and multibuy promotions changed in the past 12 months?

We're including more cider promotions across all pack formats, including bulk deals. The rationale is that cider is an increasingly important category for our customers. We are leading the market

in cider growth by providing the best cider range and promotions across the board.

Bookmark this

Site Search


Agreeing to disagree

Disagreeing about wine is a fact of wine-trade life, like drugs in sport or corruption in politics. Because taste is entirely subjective, debates about our personal preferences are as inevitable as they are interminable. Indeed, these long-winded, wine-fuelled arguments are precisely what make our jobs so much fun.

Click for more »
Upcoming events


Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know