Winter is barely behind us and the sun already seems to be shining on cider sales. They grew 9% by value in the off- trade to reach nearly £1 billion in the year to March 1, according to Nielsen, and cider is outperforming most other drinks categories.

With long-range forecasts predicting scorching sunshine in the months ahead, this most weather-dependent drinks category looks set for a stonking summer.

“Sales of cider at Tesco are doing extremely well and we continue to see strong growth in the category,” says cider buyer Amy Bird. She predicts: “The summer months will continue to see increasing popularity of cider poured over ice.”

Matt Cain, senior beer & cider buyer for Conviviality Retail, which runs the Bargain Booze and Wine Rack retail chains, is similarly positive. “Cider is one of the few categories in growth, and we’ve seen plenty of big brands capitalise on this in the past year, including high- profile launches from Carling and Strongbow.”

He continues: “With an improved choice and weather forecasters predicting another heatwave, we expect another strong year for the category.”

But upmarket northern supermarket Booths has seen a different picture.

“Cider has been the poorest- performing area in what has been a great 12 months of overall beer and cider sales,” says buying manager John Gill, who has seen cider sales fall 5% in a total category that grew by the same amount. The biggest decline was in modern cider, which includes over-ice ciders such as Magners and Bulmers.

But Gill remains positive: “Craft cider has seen a great resurgence in the past 12 months, which suggests customers are seeking traditional cider with an authentic story.

“Cider and sun go hand in hand, so if the sun shines display and availability are crucial. If the sun shines we may see a return to great traditions such as cider Sunday, and barbecues with traditional cider served very chilled.”

Debs Carter, marketing director for alcohol at Merrydown supplier SHS Drinks, says: “In the take- home market as a whole, cider is outperforming all other long alcohol drinks, as well as wines and spirits.

“More adults are consuming cider and including it as part of their drinks repertoire. During the course of a year, the number of adults consuming cider increased from 47% to 60%, according to Mintel.

“The glass-bottled cider sector, in particular, has been very buoyant in the take-home channel over the past year, with sales growing by 9% in volume and 12.6% in value, Nielsen says – and this sector now delivers £372 million- worth of sales for off-trade retailers.”