Nigel Huddleston looks at what’s driving core growth for the bigger players in cider

After the changes to the duty regime, falling abvs could be a big theme in cider this year. 

Kopparberg was among the first to break ranks, launching its Summer Punch and Winter Punch at 3.4% abv, alongside Spiced Apple at the same strength. Category manager Daniel Wheeler says IRI figures for the four weeks to Christmas Eve showed Spiced Apple to be the bestselling Kopparberg single bottle over the festive season, while Winter Punch was the “best selling NPD multipack in Tesco” over the same period. 

“The middle is being squeezed,” says Wheeler. “Due to new duty regulations, mid-tier brands such as Strongbow [whose Original sits at 4.5% abv and Dark Fruit and Ultra Dark Fruit at 4%] are relatively more expensive, making the price differential to premium brands look a lot smaller.” 

Alongside that the key to unlocking growth in the cider category is a pipeline of innovation, he adds. “Cider is very reactive to NPD,” he says. “New products will see bigger uplifts than the likes of craft beer and RTDs. It’s all about new and shiny to keep the offering fresh and customers excited.” 

One producer, Westons, is aiming to help that process this year with the launch of a pear version of Henry Westons Vintage. The new product steers clear of the wider race to generate new fruit flavours that has characterised the category over the past decade, instilling authenticity with the use of only perry pears from close to its Herefordshire cider mill.

The launch is something of a throwback to the Magners-led over-ice phenomenon of the 2000s. After it launched a pear cider, the segment experienced a short-lived boom and was much talked about, to the extent that the comedian Stewart Lee made a Magners Pear advertising strapline the central theme of a half-hour routine. Pear has since declined in the face of the last decade’s fruit cider onslaught to settle as a very small part of the category, but Westons feels it has untapped potential. 

“Pear has been dominated by wine copies like Lambrini and Country Manor and we really wanted a traditional, authentic pear cider to revitalise that market a little bit, as one way to get more shoppers back into cider,” says Westons off-trade category manager Emily Jenkins. 

PREMIUMISATION 

The 50cl bottled brand has been launched in Tesco and sits at 6% abv, compared to 8.2% for the main Henry Westons Vintage apple cider. “Henry Westons is a medium-dry apple cider and Vintage Pear is sweeter, or sweet for the range,” says insight & innovation manager Tim Williams. “It’s closer to the fruit palate but, as it’s in the Henry Westons range, it’s taking advantage of the premiumisation trend and the popular nature of the brand.” 

Henry Westons brand manager Holly Chadwick adds: “It’s medium-sweet rather than the really sweet, confectioned, fake taste that comes with a lot of pear ciders. It’s still made with fruit from within 50 miles of the mill and is true to the Westons production model, and the authenticity and craftsmanship that we employ through all the brands. 

“It’s building on the brand name and adding something different to the pear category that hasn’t had a lot of attention paid to it and has been quite dormant.” 

Jenkins adds: “It would be a shame to lose those pear orchards. It just needs somebody to take hold of it.” 

Fellow family-owned producer Thatchers had some success in premiumising the fruit cider category with the 2022 launch of Blood Orange. It’s now followed this up with the introduction of Apple & Blackcurrant, released in Tesco and Booker last November, and now going into Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda. 

“Innovation like Apple & Blackcurrant is inspired by wanting to attract more consumers to the category,” says commercial director Jonathan Nixon. “It’s important for us to do that as a leading cidermaker but I’d encourage all cider producers to do the same. 

“It’s really important that the category as a whole has a great time. Everyone needs to have a focus on quality, innovation and staying relevant.” 

For independents, Thatchers is adding price-marked packs for Blood Orange and Haze from April, after success with a similar move for Gold last year. 

Aston Manor is also investing in price-marked packs this summer, as it says it wants to keep its range accessible to consumers in tough economic times. It has introduced price-marked packs for Frosty Jack’s – £2.99 for a litre bottle, £3.99 for a 1.5-litre and £4.99 for a 2-litre. Crumpton Oak comes in a four-pack of pint cans for £4.99. 

“Aston Manor’s ethos is all around affordability,” says Calli O’Brien, the company’s head of marketing. “Price-marked packs provide reassurance that shoppers are not being overcharged.”