Craft is the buzzword of our times. From Kirsty Allsop crocheting cushion covers on Channel 4 to artisan bakers and the thriving small-batch gin market, consumers are looking for all things handmade and homespun.

Craft beer has been one of the biggest success stories in the drinks trade in recent years, and craft cider looks all set to follow.

OLN’s Cider Report poll of the country’s leading producers identified craft and artisan ciders as the top sales opportunity, with 85% of suppliers saying it was the sub-category most likely to grow in the next year.

And analysts think so too. Toby Magill, head of beers, wines & spirits at IRI Business Insights UK, says the market for “an offering that is seen as authentic or different” is growing.

He says: “This mirrors trends we are seeing in craft lager, where smaller players with strong authenticity and provenance credentials are doing well. Support for these less mainstream sectors could help the cider category differentiate itself from lager, broadening the appeal of store offerings and lessening cross- category competition.”

Nielsen senior client manager Robert Zielski also anticipates the rise of craft cider.

“Craft beer is really taking off, so it will only be a matter of time before we see craft ciders gaining listings in the off-trade,” he says.

But what exactly is craft cider?

Some might argue that much cider made in this country is craft, or artisan – there are plenty of tiny producers selling jugs over the farm gate, and these offers are nothing if not handmade.

But at the same time, major regional producers such as Westons and Thatchers, and even bigger players like Magners owner C&C, are pushing out their own “craft” ciders.

Devon independent Green Valley Cyder uses the Customs & Excise definition for small makers, who are also exempt from duty – so in its shop only cidermakers producing less than 70hl a year count as craft producers.

But owner Nick Pring says this definition is under threat from the EU and that there are now lots of producers using what he calls “craft methodology” but producing more than 70hl – “so our definition of craft cidermaker may have to be reset”.

For others, the definition should be based on what goes into the cider – particularly focusing on fresh juice rather than concentrate – not on production levels.

Sarah Edmunds, marketing manager at Hogan’s Cider, says: “It is hard to define the term craft and, as with the craft beer movement, the definition of craft seems to mean different things to different people. At Hogan’s we believe craft means fermenting cider from 100% fresh pressed cider apples, fermenting and maturing in small batches and using a process without adding sugar prior to fermentation and without the use of concentrate.”

Andrew Quinlan, founder of Orchard Pig cider, has a more fluid definition. He says: “For us it’s about personality, authenticity and a satisfying, quality drink. Who’s to say a major manufacturer can’t produce that?”

Certainly major producers are keen to cash in on the craft market.

Westons has launched a canned craft cider called Caple Rd, named after the road which approaches the company’s site in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle.

It is made using fresh English apple juice in small batches to keep quality consistent, and head of sales Geoff Bradman says the trade’s response has been very positive.

“We could anticipate craft cider becoming as big in the category as craft beer is to the beer market, although this will probably be over the mid to long term.”

He adds: “What we’re witnessing at the moment is the craft cider category being built in the on-trade. The natural transition into the off-trade is likely to gather pace over the next six to 12 months and off-licences should watch the category closely.”

For Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher, craft cider is all about heritage and provenance.

He says: “Craft cider is a product that has authenticity, heritage, provenance and substance behind it and, importantly, it is a product that represents cidermaking at its best and generates the interest of the consumer because of it, whether it’s produced in small quantities or on a larger scale.”

C&C Group customer marketing head Ed Shoebridge says the company makes craft ciders at its Somerset base in Shepton Mallett, where it produces twice-fermented, unfiltered Addlestones and the Chaplin & Cork’s range.

“Major cidermakers are more than capable of producing top-quality craft ciders,” he says. “One of the biggest opportunities for craft cider could come from upmarket young families who appreciate premium products and tend to purchase branded cider in the summer as

a change from wine. They make up 25% of households, according to research by Dunnhumby and Magners.”

But some believe craft cider will be a challenge for big producers.

Mike Henney, of Henney’s Cider in Herefordshire, says: “It is more expensive to make high-juice content cider from fresh pressed cider apples and to take the time for that cider to properly mature. This doesn’t really fit into the production set-ups of the major cidermakers.

“Unfortunately, there are no restrictions on what can be presented as a craft cider, and it takes a fairly savvy customer to see past the marketing fluff and, in some cases, misleading communications of producers who want a foot in both mainstream and craft camps.

“Retailers have a responsibility here to help their customers make informed choices. They need to gain and use knowledge about how cider is made and ask suppliers the right questions about things such as juice contents and production methods and then decide if the product is what it is presented as.”

“I haven’t seen [a major player] manage [craft] well yet,” says Henry Chevallier Guild, partner at Aspall. “That is not to say they cannot make more craft products than in their mainstream portfolio. Blue Moon wheat beer from Molson Coors is a case in point and has done a huge amount to encourage drinkers to experiment with craft and broaden their repertoire.

“I see major cidermakers fulfilling much the same role without truly becoming craft or producing a genuinely craft product. The much more likely scenario is that craft producers will become major producers by virtue of staying true to their liquid and their story. By doing this, there is the possibility that niche, smaller brands can become larger players, much as we have done at Aspall.”

Bristol Cider Shop owner Peter Snowman would like to see a clear definition of craft cider.

He says: “There should be a distinction between artisan cider made from 100% fresh juice and commercial brands which can contain as little as 35% juice.

“There is nothing to differentiate them – except that artisan producers are very proud of what goes into their cider so they tell you on the label, and commercial cidermakers do not.

“In the same way as craft beer, there is huge potential for craft cider. People are now much more discerning and, given the choice, will choose craft products over cheap, mass-produced alternatives. We only sell craft cider from small, independent producers within 50 miles of Bristol. People want authentic, local ciders that they can’t find anywhere else, and it’s all down to quality and taste.”

Whatever the definition, everyone is agreed that craft cider is on the up and up – if not necessarily likely to reach the same volumes as craft beer – with convenience stores, specialists and independents hotly tipped as the best places to cash in on the trend.

Morgenrot last year launched a Spanish cider from Asturias called Avalon. Sales director Graham Archibal
d says interest in the brand has been “astounding” and predicts that international craft ciders will spice up the UK market.

He says: “It’s all been about sickly-sweet, flavoured ciders over the past few years, but I believe the popularity of these is beginning to wane and the cider category will go down a similar path to that of craft beer in the next few years, although not to its scale.

“We will see an influx of craft ciders from around the world, which will not just showcase artisan techniques and drive innovation, but pay homage to the glorious apple or pear rather than the syrup.”

Orchard Pig’s Quinlan adds: “We absolutely believe that craft cider can become as big as craft beer – it’s certainly as much fun.

“It’s the perfect match for the customer who wants to enjoy drinks that have character and fun, but that are not mass-produced. Today’s consumer doesn’t want to be the same as everyone else – they want to try something different, something with a story behind it that makes them feel like they are part of something.

“The cider category as a whole has grown dramatically over the past couple of years, so it’s the perfect time for craft cider to step up and make its mark.”

Top tips: Crafty advice for retailers

Give it more space and make it more of a key feature in your cider section – more people are looking for craft cider products. Displays could include information about the brand and its history, as well as food-pairing suggestions to make more of an impact with the customer.”

Andrew Quinlan

Founder, Orchard Pig

“The proliferation of flavoured cider brands and varieties is crowding out and suffocating more traditional and craft ciders and so preventing growth. Merchandising should clearly define the mainstream from the craft range and that craft range should have authentic products and enough of them to generate interest from the customer and encourage experimentation. By actively promoting a good range of authentic craft ciders, retailers have the opportunity to engage with and retain more discerning, higher spending customers.”

Mike Henney

Owner, Henney’s

“Promote and showcase craft ciders properly. There’s no point in having a varied and exciting selection if customers are unable to find out why they are so special. Fridge visibility is vital but retailers should also run promotions, in-store tastings and offers. Keeping customers up to date with changes to their cider list via social media is also becoming more important to drive awareness and sales for both the brand and the retailer.”

Graham Archibald

Sales director, Morgenrot

“Take time to understand the product so you can communicate the benefits of craft to customers. In-store tastings must be undertaken to allow customers to taste the difference between a crafted cider and a more commercial product. embrace the craft movement to give your outlet a point of difference.”

Sarah Edmunds

Marketing Manager, Hogan’s

“Ensure you have a range of formats available – bottle, can and bag-in-box – and offer a range of styles of craft cider.”

Martin Thatcher

Managing Director, Thatchers

“Research styles and producers in terms of region, style and strength. above all, taste them before listing them, and don’t over-extend the range – one Gloucestershire perry is probably enough if the taste profiles are similar. There is still much education to be done, and over-ranging will not help this. Start with a limited offer and expand from there. consumers will look to retailers for advice and they must be able to give it to expand their knowledge and encourage exploration and repeat purchase.”

Henry Chevallier Guild

Partner, Aspall