Gabe Cook explores the international brands that are making waves on their own shores – and in the UK

Is there anything more quintessentially British, more evocative of the Shire and all things bucolic, than cider? Nestled along meandering lanes with tall hedges lie villages with names like Nempnett Thrubwell and Much Marcle – both very real places – home to farms where cider has been made for centuries. And out of those farms emerged some enterprises which grew and grew to become big, commercial and, in some cases, nationally distributed cidermakers. 

That’s a super-brief guide to how the UK has grown to become the world’s largest producer and consumer of cider. Nowhere else in the world is it possible to go into virtually every pub in the land and purchase a pint of cold, crisp cider. Equally, no other nation can boast the opportunity to go into every supermarket and convenience store and find shelves dedicated to the fermented apple. 

Yes, cider is a very British thing. But these isles aren’t the only place where cider is made or consumed. Anyone who has been on a family holiday to Normandy or Brittany in northern France – either as an unwilling child or a willing adult – or explored the gastronomic delights of Asturias and the Basque Country in northern Spain can attest to this. 

What many drinkers in the UK won’t be aware of is that cider is now a truly global drink. I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world in search of cider and I can tell you first hand that it is being made in places you wouldn’t have even considered, from the majestic fjords of Norway to the rugged hills of Nagano Prefecture in Japan, to the semi-desert of central Victoria in Australia and the rolling Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Wherever apples grow, cider can and is being made. 

For example, South Africa is the world’s second largest cider market after the UK, but it is highly unlikely you will have heard of the world’s second largest cider brand, Hunter’s, as it isn’t formally distributed in the UK and Europe, bar the odd expat shop. 

Of greatest surprise to many people is the fact that the US is the third largest cider-consuming nation by volume. Not only this, it is on the frontline of the contemporary cider movement. It’s grown from a handful of stalwart producers in the 1990s  to over 1,000 today, covering every state, including Alaska. There is a modernity, energy and explorative approach to production, presentation and sales in the US which, I think, would be fair to say isn’t always the case in the UK. 

I believe that the presence of non-UK ciders in retailers can only have a positive impact on the whole category, including domestic producers. It would be easy to say that there is only ever going to be a finite amount of shelf space available to cider, so to hand some of that to international makers will put a squeeze on UK producers. But I propose that now is the time for a paradigm shift in attitudes to cider in the UK, like other drinks categories have experienced over the past 15 years. 

DRIVING VALUE 

Look at what happened with craft beer, for example. US brands such as Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada and Stone emerged on to the UK market with bold flavours and packaging, a significant difference to the gentle scenes painted on the pump clips of cask ales. The result? Well, you know the rest. 

Global brands provide the mechanism to drive growth in volume and, especially, value, through excitement and awareness of different styles, flavours and experiences. Cider in the UK, especially in retail, still comes with oodles of preconceptions and pigeonholing. It is invariably viewed and positioned as cheap, sweet and fruity. Although this is true for many ciders, it doesn’t represent the full story or opportunity for all cider and acts as a barrier to volume and value growth. 

Grant Hutchison, owner of Aeble Cider Shop in Anstruther, Scotland’s only specialist cider retailer, says: “Most people who visit Aeble still have a perception of cider as being a fairly one-dimensional category, so to be able to show them the different styles from places like Spain, France, the US and more is a real eye-opener for them.” 

Ilkka Soini, co-founder of French cider brand Galipette, stocked in Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, adds: “As international ciders offer UK consumers the opportunity to experience the full expression of cider, we can significantly increase sales and importantly drive value into the category.” 

Alistair Morrell, co-founder of UK-based cider merchant Cider is Wine, echoes the sentiment. “As the global market trend in drinks is less but better, the opportunity for cider to be appreciated and valued as much as a fine wine has never been greater,” he says. 

CONSUMER UNDERSTANDING 

So where to start? Well, understanding your consumer is key to getting the right proposition for them. Those with a solid pre-existing cider presence may want to expand their range with enticingly presented, fruity, accessible ciders such as Galipette, or Sxollie from South Africa. 

For those whose staple is natural wine, look no further than sidra natural – literal translation, natural cider – from northern Spain. Embodied with all of the sensory cues of its grape-based counterpart, traditional sidra, such as Trabanco, is zingy, bright and citrusy but at half the abv and price. 

If your wine preference is a little fruit forward, why not consider a fine and elegant French cidre? James Board, a rep for importer Les Caves de Pyrene, says: “The best ciders, such as those from master cidermaker Eric Bordelet [a former sommelier at a two Michelin star Paris restaurant] have a purity and gastronomic quality that lovers of good wine can easily relate to.” 

If your retail offer is focused more on a contemporary drinking crowd then investigate some American options. Washington DC-based Anxo specialises in crisp, dry, intense ciders in 35.5cl cans, while Eve’s in upstate New York provides a large bottle offering – big and bold and perfect for fans of saisons or spontaneously fermented beers. 

The championing of global ciders in retail does not come without its challenges, of course. The market as a whole is dominated by a few major suppliers and brands: the top eight cider brands in the UK hold 89% of off -trade volume (Westons Cider Report 2023). Cider is very price sensitive, especially in retail and, with the cost of importing putting pressure on retail prices, it can be a difficult sell. And the bare fact is there are still relatively few international cider brands imported into the UK, compared to wine or beer. 

Despite all of this, I’m convinced of the sustainable category benefit of championing global ciders in UK retail and others are too. The final rallying cry comes from Soini at Galipette. “We need the trade to recognise this opportunity and to have the courage to join us in driving value into the category. 

“Together, I am confident we can develop a broad price ladder within cider, much as has been achieved in beer.”