What’s next in the world of flavoured cider? Clinton Cawood investigates
It’s easy to see the appeal of flavoured cider, not only to consumers looking for something fruity, colourful and new to drink, but to producers competing against a tide of new flavour-led products from other categories, such as hard seltzers and other RTDs.
There’s growing demand for authenticity and more premium products, but there’s also a race to identify the hottest new flavours. Simpsons Beverages, self-described “innovators in drink flavours” and supplier to any drinks category you can think of, has a good vantage point. “Flavoured cider has matured,” says managing director Caleb Simpson.
“Far from being a gimmicky version of classic cider, it’s now perfectly positioned to capitalise on the changing consumer landscape. Flavoured cider sales have held firm in recent years, with flavour additions supporting premiumisation of the category overall – helpful since cider’s sales have slipped slightly, in terms of volume.”
Thatchers Cider, meanwhile, is definitely in the race. “We firmly believe that the key for the continued interest in the cider category is fresh development and innovation, keeping the excitement alive for consumers who like experimenting and trying something new,” says off-trade sales director Chris Milton.
Drawing an analogy to another drinks category with seemingly endless new flavoured variants, Jane Peyton, founder of the School of Booze and the UK’s first accredited cider sommelier, can see why these appeal. “The way the ingredients in flavoured gin can sound exotic tempt customers to buy them, and it’s the same with the flavour combinations of some flavoured ciders.”
From his perspective as founder of Cider Is Wine – both a quality mark for ciders, perries and fruit wines fermented exclusively from fruit and not concentrate, as well as a retailer of these – Alistair Morrell describes the motivation for mainstream brands to create flavoured ciders.
“It seems many mass-market producers are keen to chase the trend, seeing it as being able to challenge the increasing demand for pre-mixed cocktails and other fruit-inspired, low-mid range alcohol products.”
As a retailer, Morrell reports that Cider Is Wine has seen sustained demand for products that are flavoured with 100% juice, that “epitomise the consumer trend towards authentic, provenance-led quality”.
He gives examples including Blueberry & Apple Co-Ferment from Long Brothers, and Templar’s Blush, made by fermenting apples with blackberries. Peyton sees similar flavours being used.
“In artisan cidermaking, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb and elderflower are popular,” she says, but points out that this varies at the other end of the category. “In commercial cidermaking, pineapple and tropical fruit blends are popular, along with the stalwarts of red and dark berry fruits.”
Simpson agrees, particularly on the enduring nature of those berry flavours. “They continue to lead the category,” he says. “Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are perfect paired with apple, and create that eye-catching pink hue that’s always popular with drinkers.” Beyond berry, there’s one particular citrus fruit that everyone’s talking about at the moment.
“Blood orange is the fruit flavour of the summer, being used in spirits, beers and ciders alike,” says Simpson. The team at Thatchers agrees, unsurprisingly, given the company’s high-profile launch of Thatchers Blood Orange this year.
“This emerging flavour is new to the cider category, but we’ve seen growing popularity for sophisticated orange and blood orange flavours in other premium drinks such as spirits, IPAs and soft drinks over the past year,” says Milton.
The development of Blood Orange was informed by the success of the brand’s Cloudy Lemon variant before it. “It proved that a citrus-flavoured cider really works, with the tangy citrus notes acting as a foil to the sweetness of the apples,” explains Milton.
“Blood Orange was therefore a natural progression, looking amazingly vibrant in the glass, and offering the same premium fruity refreshment that we know customers are looking for.”
The trick, of course, is predicting the next flavour trend. Simpson has some ideas, and they’re not all fruity or refreshing either.
“Apple works well with all sorts of flavours, making it pretty versatile. We’re expecting to see more premium fruits being used for flavoured ciders, as well as creative botanical infusions. A refreshing elderflower mix could quickly become a crowd pleaser, or additions of cinnamon, walnut or nutmeg could help take this classic summertime drink into the winter months. Unusual flavour pairings like these are already proving popular,” he says.
Simpson also sees a more fruity direction for cider. “Tropical fruits like pineapple and mango are being used to create complex flavoured ciders, as are other orchard fruits like peach or apricot.”
What about the bright-hued citrus flavour trend of the summer? “Perhaps blood orange will be further built upon, with extra infusions added to it,” predicts Simpson. “We think blood orange with chilli could be interesting, similar to the spicy blood orange and turmeric combination we’ve seen on the market.”