Off the beaten track

The cider market has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent years and the major retailers have responded by giving the category vastly increased space and support.

But have independents been getting their fair share of the spoils? We talked to three independents that specialise in cider about what they do and who’s drinking what.

York Beer & Wine Shop, York?Jim Helsby, owner??????????????What range do you sell? We’ve always done draught cider – very often it’s Weston’s bag-in-box, but I also drive around the country sourcing products, which might mean me getting in, say, Ross-on-Wye cider from Broome Farm in Herefordshire. I’ll very often take the empty polypins myself and just see what I can get at the farm gate.

I sometimes get stuff from Marcus Govier’s farm at the bottom of Glastonbury Tor, Somerset – it’s just a place that looks like an old builder’s yard really.

In bottles, it’s more well-known products such as Sheppy’s, Dunkertons and Gwatkin’s but they’re still not what you could call mainstream – and they’re still bought face to face rather than through wholesalers.

We don’t do things like Kopparberg or Aspall, partly because you can get them at cash and carries. Aspall is a really great product but there’s no point in stocking something all my competitors stock. I’m also really into the idea of provenance and I don’t really understand the provenance of something like Kopparberg. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t really know anything about the Swedish cider market or understand the context of where it’s coming from.

What trends have you seen in the market? We used to do 10 or 15 gallons of draught a week about 20 years ago, but it’s dropped back just as it has with ale. There are just more pubs where people can get decent draught. At the same time, bottled sales have probably gone up tenfold. There’s much more availability because all the smaller products are now bottling, just as microbreweries are.

Who are your cider customers?? It’s difficult to put a finger on, but they’re very different from ale drinkers. It certainly goes from people in their 20s up to those around 60, but probably not much higher.

One thing has been the huge increase in women drinking cider and there has been a shift towards sweeter styles. I don’t know whether that’s a gender thing or just because of the way cider is being marketed. Dry cider was probably 80% of sales five years ago and it’s nearer 60% now.

Overall, sales have easily doubled over the past five years, but it’s still intensely seasonal. It’s always sluggish until the end of March and then you can pretty much snap your fingers and all the cider drinkers come out of the woodwork until the end of September.

The Cellar, Clevedon, Somerset?Michelle Frake, managerWhat range do you sell? We have pretty much everything that Thatchers do because they’re local and our philosophy is to have local products. We also do the Swedish fruit cider Fredrik’s which is imported by the Cotleigh Brewery, and Orchard Pig, Sheppy’s, Heron Valley, Devon, and Butcombe Brewery’s Ashton Press.

Which are your best sellers? Thatchers flies out the door and this year we’ve been selling a lot of its bigger bottles like Ciderberry and Katy Rosé, especially through the summer. It’ll be interesting to see how they do from now on, but in this area we only have a slight downturn in cider sales in the winter.

?What trends have you seen in the market? It’s been growing well for the past few years, just as local ales have. We’ve got a name in the area for selling local products, which brings people in, and sales have gone up a lot. We haven’t promoted cider because we haven’t needed to.

Who are your typical cider customers? It’s a good mixture really. Women are really going for the rosés, but we’ve got a core of male customers who come in for the more traditional ciders. We don’t get many customers below 25 because it’s not that sort of place. I’d say the majority of cider consumers are between 35 and 45.

Jug & Bottle, Bubwith, East Riding of Yorkshire?Louise Smith, owner ???????What range do you sell? We do four or five types of Westons on draught, plus two from Biddenden, east Yorkshire producer Moorlands, Oliver’s, Moles and Cornish Orchards. There are currently 15 on draught. In bottles we have in excess of 45 including 33cl and 1-litre bottles of Sheppy’s, Biddenden, Cornish Orchards, Orchard Pig, Ross-on-Wye, Westons and Thatchers.

How do you select the range? It tends to be what wholesalers have to offer, but I also seek out new ones by going to food fairs and seeing new producers or wholesalers.

Which have been particularly good sellers recently? Oliver’s and Cornish Orchards are doing well. They’re new in and people return all the time as they like the revolving stock.

How have cider sales increased in the past few years??We’re up 20% year on year for draught and 13% year on year in bottles, which we’ve managed over an eight-year period.

Who are your cider customers? The biggest audience would be 30 to 40-year-old men, then women of the same age.

How important is cider to the overall business? I’m starting to realise more and more how important it is. We have peaks in summer, but it’s a good all-year-round seller. In the past month, I’ve rearranged the cider bottles into a more prominent position, although it’s too early to say whether this has brought an increase in sales.

How do you promote cider? Through our just relaunched website. I also set up our village’s Beer, Cider & Perry Festival four years ago, so people get to try new ones there. We supply lots of local festivals and now have a banner up at these festivals promoting the shop.