Autumn and apples go together like, well, apple pie and custard, or pork and apple sauce. Keats’s season of mists and mellow fruitfulness calls to mind apple bobbing, toffee apples, and all sorts of other appley delights.

All except for cider, that is.

The nation’s favourite apple beverage has been inextricably linked with summer, sunshine and refreshment – and traditionally lost share to beer, wine and spirits over the winter months.

But perhaps not this year. Following the phenomenal success of Rekorderlig’s Winter cider, which is being released for the fifth time, both Kopparberg and Henry Westons have announced the launch of winter or mulled ciders this year.

Kopparberg Spiced Apple is designed to be served hot, while Henry Westons Mulled cider comes in a 2.25-litre bag-in-box designed to be the perfect amount for a party, or to keep fresh for up to six weeks for consumers who want to heat up individual serves.

Last year, 17% of consumers drank mulled cider over the winter months, according to Mintel, and that is set to rise steeply with the new products on the market this year.

Rekorderlig Winter cider grew sales by 500% last year, when it ran its first ad campaign for the brand, according to Nielsen.

Linsey Adams, customer marketing manager at distributor Chilli Marketing, says: “Warm, spiced cider has experienced phenomenal growth year on year since Rekorderlig launched Winter cider five years ago. The deseasonalisation of cider and Rekorderlig’s positioning as a cider for all seasons has allowed cider to become a credible, genuine Christmas drink.”

She advises retailers to be imaginative with their merchandising in a bid to convey to the off- trade some of the appeal mulled drinks have in the on-trade, where wafts of warming spices can tempt customers from bar-top heaters. “As all the major players gear up for their big winter campaigns and licensees stock up on seasonal drinks, the off-trade must follow suit as consumers look to replicate their on-trade drinking experiences at home with friends,” says Adams.

Rekorderlig is running an interactive campaign involving experiential, POS, social and digital media – including a Twitter debate on hot and cold drinks, #hotornot – video on demand and PR for trade and consumers this winter, as well as creating hot and cold cocktails for its Winter cider.

Meanwhile, Kopparberg Spiced Apple was launched with a Christmas-branded urn and matching mugs, as well as a PR and social media campaign.

Customer marketing manager Ben Turner says: “Mulled cider offers off-licences the opportunity to boost their winter offering. As the popularity of mulled drinks increases, retailers can benefit from following trends in other channels.

“It’s great to be able to enjoy a mulled cider while out and about as well as being able to recreate the experience at home. Consumers are looking for drinks brands they know and trust through each season, so retailers should stock up on the proven winners. With this in mind we have introduced our Kopparberg Spiced Apple, which can be enjoyed warm or chilled.”

Westons senior brand manager Matthew Langley adds: “The mulled cider category has seen huge growth over the past three years, yet until now there has been a gap in the market for a larger sharing format which will keep for more than just a few days.

“We originally launched our Mulled cider into the on-trade in 2012, and volumes last year were up 200% on the previous year, which reflects how consumer demand for the product is growing phenomenally.

“According to Mintel, 69% of consumers will consider cider in sharing formats such as bag-in-box and, with 56% of consumers drinking cider at least once a month through the winter, our new bag-in-box Mulled cider is likely to be a huge hit with consumers.”

But mulled drinks aren’t all about cider. Continental Wine & Food marketing manager Amy Ledger notes that mulled wine has been one of the biggest autumn and winter sales stories of the past few years. CWF has two pre-spiced mulled wines – Winter Warmer (10% abv) and Harvest Fruits (8% abv). Meanwhile, Halewood International has high hopes for its Crabbie’s Mulled Ginger wine this Christmas.

Ledger says: “One of the most enjoyable aspects of mulled wine is in the positive memories that the smell evokes and it is this that helps to drive sales each year as consumers look to recreate those moments.

“For those off-licence owners who wish to drive additional sales, a tasting or sampling evening should reap the benefits. Prepare a variety of mulled drinks for attendees to try – some consumers may be wary of a prepared mulled wine so encouraging trial is important. Linked promotions can also work well.

“Mulled wine is often served with canapés or mince pies and goes well with cheese such as Roquefort.”