It’s an issue that has become a major focus for consumers and producers alike. Clinton Cawood looks at how the sector is getting its message across
If a sustainability initiative is implemented in an orchard and no one posts about it on Instagram, fortunately it still benefits the environment. But in an age when sustainability is increasingly important to retailers and consumers alike, cider producers are understandably keen to let the world know that they’re doing their bit.
When choosing which ciders to stock, sustainability credentials have arguably never been more important to retailers. “All the artisanal craft cider producers we work with have a strong commitment to sustainable practices,” says Nicky Kong of online bottle shop The Cat in the Glass.
“Many maintain their own orchards or foster neglected orchards, and others seek out apples that would otherwise go to waste.”
Aspects like these are important to Sheffield retailer Hop Hideout’s Jules Gray too. “We certainly look for producers who are working on and towards sustainable practices,” she says.
Cider producers big and small are all too aware of the growing influence of sustainability credentials on purchasing decisions. Brothers Drinks Co head of marketing Nicola Randall says: “Consumers are ever-more tuned into the impact that the items they purchase have on the environment, and our retail customers know that shoppers don’t expect unethical, over-packaged or environmentally unfriendly products to make it on-shelf.”
“Retailers are becoming more and more concerned about the sustainable practices of their suppliers,” confirms Alexander Darley, head of sales for Normandy-based Maison Sassy.
“On top of this, the final consumer sees responsible and sustainable production methods as the icing on the apple tart.”
Kopparberg customer marketing manager Elise Hockridge notes this change in priorities too. “Retailers and consumers are looking for brands to show a conscious and ongoing effort to improve every part of their business, towards a greener future,” she says.
“It is no longer enough to simply offset environmental impact with post-production initiatives. Producers must now look at the whole production process and the energy it uses, as well as raw materials and packaging.”
It’s increasingly important, therefore, for cider producers to get their sustainability message across to retailers, who in turn are well positioned to communicate these to consumers. For Jana Post, of Walthamstow-based independent retailer Forest Wines, there are various ways to obtain this information.
“We tend to do our own research when considering new producers for our range, and meet the maker events organised by our suppliers are also a great way of finding out more,” she says. Like many other producers, Susanna Forbes values this direct approach.
The co-founder of Little Pomona Orchard & Cidery with husband James Forbes says: “The trade is always welcome by appointment, so we can share what we do, and some spend time with us during the harvest too.”
“Face-to-face conversations with retailers, licensees and consumers are the most effective, yet time-consuming, way of sharing our sustainability credentials,” says Abby Brockwell, commercial director of The Big Bear Cider Mill.
“For retailers, conversation is always king,” says Thatchers Cider commercial director Jonathan Nixon, going on to describe further ways that the brand communicates with consumers. “We have clear recycling logos on our packs, and regular updates on our sustainability initiatives are featured in our social campaigns, website and direct marketing.”
Retailers undoubtedly play an important role in communicating these credentials. “One of the services and skills that we provide as an online bottle shop is in assisting producers to communicate their sustainable practices,” says The Cat in the Glass’s Kong.
“We are able to explain the benefits of buying UK-based products to our customers in the store,” Post says. “We also use social media and newsletters to communicate the benefits, with locally made produce and sustainable farming practices always high on the agenda.”
Indeed, different aspects of sustainability resonate differently with retailers and consumers, while some have appeal to both.
“Our customers, both retail and consumer, love to hear about our old orchard restoration projects,” says Lydia Crimp of Artistraw, the first UK cidery to undertake an annual carbon audit and make the data available via its labels.
Similar aspects of Big Bear’s sustainability story are well received. “The planting of our orchards and bee-keeping always resonate well with retailers and consumers alike. There’s a quick and easy correlation between enhancing the natural environment and sustainability,” says Brockwell, who adds that initiatives in which waste is repurposed are particularly appreciated by consumers.
Nixon confirms this. “We know there are certain elements that chime more – that’s reduction of waste, reduction of plastic use and reduction of carbon,” he says.
For Darley, what has the most impact is “the fact that we haven’t had to change anything for centuries to make ourselves sustainable”.
At Little Pomona, meanwhile, there are multiple, diverse aspects that resonate. “The apples themselves, the lack of intervention in our processes, and the localism,” says Forbes.
Local is certainly an important part of the conversation. “An aspect which resonates well is that our 150 acres of historic local orchards are situated in such close proximity to our cider mill,” agrees Brothers’ Randall.
Whichever aspect of a brand’s sustainability story resonates most, there’s a real benefit to communicating these, both for producers and retailers. As Gray at Hop Hideout puts it: “Customers will pay a premium for quality, organic, sustainable practices, and come back for repeat purchases.”