Aston Manor Cider is targeting the small-batch premium craft cider market with the launch of Friel’s First Press Vintage.

The new product uses the first press of culinary and dessert apple varieties such as Katy, Windsor and Red Falstaff.

It is 7.4% ABV and retails at £1.99 for a 33cl bottle.

The launch comes as consumers are losing interest in the mainstream cider market. Once worth £1bn, the market has lost £35m in the last year, according to analysts IRI.

“Premium cider is the only category in growth as consumers drink less volume but are spending more on quality,” said Aston Manor managing director, Gordon Johncox.

“What we are seeing recently is many consumers increasingly rejecting ubiquitous, mass produced brands, and looking for something with authenticity, provenance and flavour.

“Aston Manor has the credentials and the capability to perform well in this area and it is dedicating significant resources into the premium cider sector.

“In addition to continuing investment in the mainstream products in our portfolio, this is the start of us diversifying our offering further with a heightened focus on more premium ciders.”

Aston Manor Cider is the UK’s largest independent cider maker and is responsible for around a third of all cider sales in the off-trade.

The launch of Friel’s First Press Vintage is part of the company’s wider growth and investment strategy.

The family-owned business owns 300 acres of mature orchards in the Malverns. It is currently planting 400,000 trees over a further 1,000 acres in Herefordshire under 25-year contracts with farmers and growers at a cost of some £50m.

It has also invested around £30m on its production facilities, including £7m on a purpose-built processing plant at Stourport-on-Severn, which is already fully operational.

“We have worked hard and invested significantly over several years,” Johncox said. “I believe we are better placed than any other cider maker to continue to grow and develop the cider category – both for retailers and for our own brands.

“Focused on cider and participating in every sector of the category, we are excited about the platform we have to grow our brands and to achieve even more working with retailers.

“In both instances we see a move to more premium and authentic ciders.”

The company has also recently signed a deal with Marstons as it looks to expand into the on-trade.

The three-year partnership will give Aston Manor access to 6,000 pubs through the brewery’s estate.