People are now discovering and making innovative ciders all around the world and here in Britain fans are keen to reinstate this country’s position as one of the leaders of the category. This year annual cider sales rose to a three year high, topping the £1 billion mark for the first time since 2014.

The weather, of course, was a big contributor, and the happy combination of the warmest May since records began in 1910 and an unseasonably warm July ensured that Nielsen’s data for the category this summer gained widespread media coverage. Current Nielsen data shows that sales fell back a little after that – those who bravely stayed local for the full English summer will remember that the glorious days from May to early July were rarely seen again before autumnal weather hit. As a consequence total cider in the year to September 9 this year reached value sales of £995.8 million.

And although this figure doesn’t bring the fanfare of that golden £1 billion mark, it is worth noting that this is still 3.1% higher than the same period one month ago. There is no change in the sub-sectors that are in growth within the cider category. As we reported earlier this year it is fruit-flavoured and premium ciders that are driving growth. Nielsen doesn’t show data specifically for premium ciders, and indeed there is now some crossover between premium and fruit flavours, so it is hard to put any figures on this. But, anecdotally, both suppliers and retailers suggest that higher-priced ciders – often classed as heritage or artisan brands – are the ones that have strong consumer appeal at the moment.

The growing craft cider category, in cans and bottles, is also a dynamic, though small, segment of the market.

Martin Thatcher, managing director of Thatchers Cider, says: “Traditional premium ciders such as Thatchers Vintage and Thatchers Katy sit within the fastest growing cider category, growing at 21%. These ciders should make up an important part of a retailer’s range in order to maximise potential sales. This category is dominated by apple cider, making up 97.4% of traditional premium cider value sales.

“The traditional premium cider category has a loyal and strong consumer base. It is a growing category and is playing an increasingly important role for retailers to help unlock value in their cider sales. We believe the future of the category lies firmly with great quality apple cider. It’s therefore important to introduce classics, such as our Vintage cider, to new cider drinkers, who we know really respect the values of heritage and provenance.”

And Merrydown says its Vintage cider outperformed the glass bottled cider category last Christmas with volume and value sales up by 26% and 23% respectively, while in impulse driven stores the brand saw sales increase 27% in volume terms and 25% in value, compared to the previous December.

Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing for alcohol at supplier SHS Drinks, says: “Merrydown has not only benefited from the surge in consumer interest in craft, traditional and heritage ciders, from a price-point stance it acts as a stepping stone for trading consumers up into the premium sector. As such the brand plays a vital role in helping drinks retailers to maximise the festive sales opportunity.”


Fruit-flavoured cider, though, is the segment that continues to see the strongest growth in Nielsen data for the category. Apple cider accounts for the biggest share of the market but is recording a decline of 0.3% while fruit flavours are up 11.9%. Pear cider continues to lose market share and this year it dropped in value by 18% to £28.2 million. In the impulse channel, cider is worth almost £350 million.

A further growth area, which works well in convenience, is canned cider. This is now worth £518 million in the total off -trade, which is a 12% increase on the year before (Nielsen, year to July 15). Cider in 33cl cans is worth £5.2 million in impulse.

Toby Lancaster, category and shopper marketing director at Strongbow and Bulmers supplier Heineken, says: “There’s a definite opportunity for convenience stores. It is crucial to stock big brands such as Strongbow, as mainstream cider accounts for 69% of the total cider category.”

He also points to the growth category of flavoured cider, which can sometimes get overlooked by convenience retailers at Christmas in favour of seasonal specials. He adds: “Flavoured cider is in value growth and should be maximised in-store to entice new shoppers to try something different.

“It is clear from the growth of Strongbow Dark Fruit since its launch – it’s now the UK’s second favourite cider, after Strongbow Original, and still growing at 31.8% in value according to Nielsen, MAT to May 6 – that there is a huge appetite for flavoured cider even within mainstream ciders.”