The forecast is in – and it looks like the cider market is going to be cloudy this autumn.

A rainy summer has put the (wellington) boot into an already struggling mainstream cider market. Once a surefire winner, the £1 billion market has lost £35 million in the past year, according to IRI.

In response, cider producers are making like the weather and launching cloudy products – tapping into a growing appetite for authenticity and provenance that hasn’t been dampened by the wet summer.

IRI’s head of beer, wine and spirits insights Toby Magill says mainstream and premium mainstream brands such as Strongbow and Stella Cidre were hardest hit by declines driven by the poor weather, while traditional ciders that are seen as having more heritage and provenance, such as Westons, Thatchers and Aspall, have fared better.

With craft, small-batch and local ciders gaining more interest and traction in the market, major brands are looking to give consumers the authentic experience they are looking for by experimenting with more traditional styles – such as cloudy ciders.

This year Strongbow released its Cloudy Apple variant, Westons has seen premium cloudy brand Old Rosie grow more than 50% in the off-trade and launched a lower-abv offshoot called Rosie’s Pig, and Thatchers has released 4.5% abv Somerset Haze.

Heineken’s off-trade category and trade marketing director Craig Clarkson says Strongbow Cloudy Apple’s launch has been a success.

“Strongbow Cloudy Apple taps into a huge opportunity to innovate within apple cider, especially among the new generation of cider drinkers who entered the category through flavours and are now developing their taste preferences and seeking a return to the authenticity and tradition of apple ciders,” he says. Clarkson also predicts a bright future for fruit-dominated world ciders such as Heineken’s New Zealand brand Old Mout, which added a fourth flavour, Strawberry & Pomegranate, this year.

Westons head of sales Geoff Bradman tells OLN the company has had a record year for sales.

He says: “Consumers want to buy great-tasting ciders with authenticity behind their propositions, and the revival of the beer category has shown the way, with the growth of craft beer brands with authenticity at their heart.

“Our projections indicate continued growth for fruit cider and the traditional premium sub-categories of the market. It’s critical that any new product initiatives add interest and a point of difference rather than just offering me-toos.”

Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher says: “There’s a real thirst for ciders that have genuine provenance and heritage. People have a genuine interest in where their drink comes from and how it is made – they want to know it’s the real thing.

“Thatchers Somerset Haze has experienced exceptional take-up in the on-trade over the summer. It’s definitely the cider for now that consumers are asking for. As soon as consumers sample Somerset Haze, they want to buy it, and we’re expecting this demand to continue growing across the off-trade over the coming months. The feedback we are getting from consumers is that they are loving this modern take on a traditional style of cider.”

A social media campaign this autumn aims to build on the outdoor campaign the brand ran over the summer.

Thatcher says: “We expect the current resurgence in the demand for cloudy cider that we’ve been seeing in the on-trade to develop further and in particular for new, contemporary ciders such as Thatchers Somerset Haze to continue growing and reaching new consumers.”

Aston Manor is tapping into the market for premium and craft ciders with the release of Friels First Press Vintage Cider, which it is calling a craft cider.

Sales and marketing director Glen Friel says: “Vintage ciders are establishing a real sweet spot in the category, growing well ahead of the market at more than 19% and adding £4.2 million to category sales in the past year.

“Friels First Press Vintage Cider is made using only the juiciest, first press of Red Falstaff, Katy and Windsor eating apples from the 2014 harvest of orchards in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. We’ve crafted a vintage cider that’s pure, refreshing and flavoursome.

“We are seeing many consumers increasingly rejecting ubiquitous, mass-produced mainstream brands and looking for something different, and especially more authentic. This will help feed consumer interest in craft and vintage ciders, which will in turn bolster sales for apple ciders. The trend for craft cider in cans will also help drive category sales.”

Daf Pugh Williams, senior innovation commercialisation manager at Diageo GB, which this spring launched spirit cider Pimm’s Cider Cup, says: “There is an inescapable excitement currently around products with authenticity, craftsmanship and character. Consumers are increasingly curious about the products they purchase and want to treat themselves with rewarding products and experiences.

“They are interested in the craft that goes into products and want to know how their product has been made, what the provenance of the product is and whether there is a story with real substance. Craft ciders will no doubt follow this trend and it is our challenge as suppliers to speak to consumers in the right way to convey these traits to them.”

Draining value

Aspall partner Henry Chevallier Guild warns that mainstream producers – especially major brewers – entering the cider market are draining its value.

“Apple cider sales have shown continuing steady decline that coincides worryingly with the first full 12-month availability of the brewer brands,” he says.

“This mainstream end of the market has not looked as cheap in a few years. Cider drinkers are traditionally fickle and move their attention to other categories if the cider on offer is not to their liking. The flooding of the market with new mainstream brands has become a cross-category play, rather than a category-specific intervention. As such the debate is more about market share than category growth, either in volume or value terms.”

While Aspall brands have performed “within our aspirations”, with growth of 3.4% for Premier Cru, Chevallier Guild says fruit ciders have taken volume from apple and called spirit ciders “an unwelcome distraction”.

He says: “The mainstream fixture is in danger of derailing itself as we see a swathe of price-led activities and incentives that add no value to the consumer offer.

“The vast majority of cider consumers are notorious part-timers, dipping in and out of the category as the mood and the weather influences them. Ciders that do not offer the satisfaction promised or expected will drive consumers away from the category.

“It is only by delivering consistently high-quality liquids backed up by authentic stories with genuine provenance that true brand – and category – loyalty can be won. We feel that, far from optimism, the category should be extremely mindful of the mistakes of the past, where incessant deep discounting, and products that do not deliver on quality eroded the credibility of the category as a whole.”

Specialist organic supplier Vintage Roots believes that, while sweet drinks trends come and go, traditional dry ciders are here to stay.

Director Neil Palmer says: “We feel that more consumers will turn towards organic in
the coming years as there is more education on the benefits of moving away from pesticides. Every product in the Vintage Roots range is certified organic or contains organic ingredients and we are passionate about making organic options easily available for consumers everywhere.

“Fruit ciders have been growing in popularity alongside other novel drinks, such as speers, as consumers continue to look outside the box for new and exciting beverages.

“While some brands are jumping on this trend, Vintage Roots continues to provide more traditional options that focus on quality rather than innovation.

“Dunkerton’s organic options continue to sell well, while quality, Suffolk-based Aspall’s Organic Cyder is a must-stock. We have also seen steady and consistent sales growth over the past five years with a naturally sparkling French cider, Domaine des Cinq Autels, made from more than 15 varieties of apples.”

Angela Ham, customer marketing controller at Magners owner C&C Brands, believes there will be an apple cider revival.

She says: “While we expect the popularity of the fruit category to continue, we anticipate a renewed interest in the apple cider segment and, in particular, the core brands that sparked the initial cider surge, such as Magners Original.”

Harry Fry of family-owned Somerset producer Harry’s Cider agrees.

He says: “Our apple cider sales have continued to grow significantly and are 60% up on last year.

“The interest in fruit cider has been massive,butIthink growthinthe‘real cider’ market is greater, not just in the UK but globally.”