In an off-trade market of almost static volumes, and value sales creeping up with tax and inflation, one category is still storming ahead — fruit cider.

Sales of flavoured cider grew 66% to £229 million in the past year, according to Nielsen, and it now makes up 24% of cider as a whole — up from 16% a year ago and 11% the year before.

Nielsen client manager Robert Zielski says: “Flavoured cider remains the standout performing category in long drinks, and we are expecting another record summer this year, should the weather hold up.

“Although growth rates are likely to slow in the medium term — they simply will not be able to sustain current growth rates in the next two to three consecutive years — flavoured cider is a category that is clearly here to stay and will be of great importance to many of our clients going forward.”

Conviviality Retail, which runs the Wine Rack and Bargain Booze chains, has high hopes for fruit cider.

Senior beer and cider buyer Matt Cain says: “Last year’s hot summer gave a huge boost to the cider category and to fruit-flavoured ciders in particular. The trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2014, and we’ve already seen a number of high- profile product launches.

“Consumers are seeking ever more exotic flavours and one of our most successful new products this year has been Old Mout New Zealand cider in Passion Fruit & Apple and Summer Berries.

“With an improved choice and weather forecasters predicting another heatwave, we expect another strong year for the category.”

Kopparberg is one of the brands cashing in on the fruit cider boom, with sales up 53% across its brands and its Strawberry & Lime flavour up 62% in the off-trade.

Customer marketing manager Ben Turner says: “Kopparberg experienced an amazing year-on- year growth of 88% through July and August 2013 in the off-trade channel and shows no sign of slowing down in 2014.

“There’s a lot of NPD in the category planned and it’s getting crowded out there, but our brand has continued to grow in double digits, despite the increased competition.”

Rival Swedish brand Rekorderlig has seen its fruit-flavoured brands grow 78% by value in the year to April, according to Nielsen.

Customer marketing manager Linsey Adams, at distributor Chilli Marketing, says: “The brand continues to be at the forefront of driving continued growth into the category. Rekorderlig Strawberry & Lime is our hero SKU. It’s seen value sales increase 77% year on year.

“Rekorderlig has continued to be innovative and build on its approach to bringing seasonality into the cider market to great success.”

This summer sees the launch of a new limited edition flavour, Rekorderlig Apple & Guava.

Merrydown launched a 4% abv blackcurrant variant last autumn and Debs Carter, alcohol marketing director at brand owner SHS Drinks, is pleased with its performance so far.

She says: “The growth in consumer interest and sales of flavoured cider has been phenomenal, and the sector is still very much in its ascendancy. Within the glass bottled cider category, flavoured cider [other than apple and pear] is the powerhouse driving the category growth. Flavoured cider has now overtaken apple in value terms, taking a 46% share [of the glass bottled category] against apple’s 42% , but apple is still the biggest seller in volume terms — although that gap is diminishing.

“The sector which is really struggling is pear cider, which has seen value and volume sales plummet by 20%, reducing its volume share of glass bottled cider sales in impulse stores from 18% to 13% in the past 12 months.”

Carter adds: “There are no signs at this stage of fruit-flavoured cider sales slowing up, and continued double-digit growth suggests that there is still plenty of stretch within the cider category.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that there will be more flavours making their way on to the market this year, and another trend which is likely to take hold in 2014 is the emergence of a new spirit-flavoured cider, or spiders, sector.”

“Fruit ciders will continue to do well this summer,” agrees Matthew Deane, head of category leadership at Molson Coors, which released a cherry flavour of Carling British Cider in March. “This success should continue as retailers dedicate more features and displays, and brand owners continue to innovate.”

There is plenty of NPD around, with recent releases including Blackthorn Black ’n’ Black and Stella Artois Cidre Raspberry.

Traditional British fruits and flowers such as elderflower, blackcurrant and blackberry are becoming popular, as are more exotic fruits such as lime, guava and the Nordic cloudberry.

Carter says: “From what we are seeing, the sector is unlikely to be dominated by one particular flavour in the way that pear took the market by storm a couple of years ago. Consumers are looking for more variety and choice, and their interest is being fuelled by unusual flavour combinations such as strawberry and lime, which is proving to be quite popular at the moment, and an assortment of different berry flavours are also selling well.”

Nielsen’s Zielski says: “New SKUs will help grow the category further, but this does mean an even more congested fixture, with suppliers likely to be facing greater challenges in gaining and protecting listings.

“Flavoured cider accounts for 24% of cider sales, but its distribution accounts for 30% of total cider. Although we expect flavoured cider to continue to grow in value terms, it is likely that underperforming products will have to be taken out of store to accommodate NPD.”

Pear takes a back seat

So what should move over to make room for newer, more successful products? The overall consensus seems to be that it is pear cider.

Molson Coors’ Deane says: “Retailers have really embraced the opportunity with cider and have increased the amount of space, firstly to apple, then to pear and most recently to fruit. However, there will always be pressure on fixtures and there are still opportunities to get the right range and SKUs on shelf as this dynamic category continues to evolve.

“Fruit cider appears to be sourcing much of its volume from pear ciders, so we would recommend first reviewing the core apple cider range, rationalising pear cider and, finally, upweighting fruit cider.”

Merrydown’s Carter wants to see a greater focus on products targeted at an older market.

She says: “We believe retailers underestimate the role of heritage ciders and that the brands in this category perhaps don’t get the share of the flavoured cider fixture they deserve. As most of the new ciders launched over the past couple of years have been aimed at 18 to 30-year-olds, it’s created something of an imbalance in the cider fixture.

“There’s a big assumption that the majority of today’s cider drinkers fall within this age group, but the fact is that almost two-thirds (60%) of cider is actually consumed by the over-35s, according to Mintel, and a third of cider is actually consumed by the 50- plus age group, according to Kantar Media TGI.

“It is, therefore, essential that the range includes heritage brands such as Merrydown, Westons, Thatchers and Aspall, which dominate the heritage sector and appeal to the established generation of older cider consumers who actually outnumber 18 to 30-year-old purchasers by around six to one. These consumers are looking for quality cues — the taste profile of the product and the story behind the brand.”

Building brands

One of the biggest launches of 2013 was Heine
ken’s New Zealand fruit cider brand Old Mout — which the company hopes will join Swedish ciders on shop shelves to create a distinct world cider category.

Heineken is also hoping to boost lower-alcohol cider sales within the fruit market. Its 2.8% abv Bulmers Cider Five Fruit Harvest and Bulmers Cider Indian Summer now sit

Fruit cider appears to be sourcing much volume from pear ciders. We recommend reviewing the core range, rationalising pear cider and upweighting fruit

alongside stronger versions including Crushed Red Berries & Lime, Bold Black Cherry and Pressed Red Grape.

Off-trade category and trade marketing director Craig Clarkson said: “The new lower-alcohol variants will offer drinkers a choice of two very different but equally refreshing flavours from the market leader while opening up the Bulmers brand to new drinking occasions.”

Whatever happens, it looks like the stage is set for even more launches in this crowded category — so someone will have to make room.