Westons Cider predicts a “positive outlook” for the off-trade cider category, despite the current challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

In its latest annual Westons Cider Report, the Herefordshire cider maker said it is ramping up production to keep pace with the current increase in demand from retailers.

The company said its priority during this challenging time is to support the off-trade, and increasing its production is one part of this.

Sally McKinnon, head of marketing at Westons, said: “The biggest thing is upweighting our spend and the biggest challenge is availability.

“For us it is about driving availability of our range and we are looking at how we can support retailers, particularly in the convenience sector – independent and bigger stores – to manage the availability of products.

“We have definitely seen a step up in the digital space with people now using social media more than ever and so we have been supporting this by helping consumers see where stocks are available. We are also looking at how we can provide community support.”

The company also notes there are additional reasons for optimism beyond the current challenges being created by the outbreak.

Darryl Hinksman, head of business development, said: “To keep pace with a current increase in demand, we are increasing production of our popular portfolio of premium and crafted ciders – including Stowford Press, Henry Westons, Old Rosie, Rosie’s Pig and Mortimer’s Orchard – as a matter of urgency, so that we will be ready to fulfil increased demand among the off-trade.

“And while we would naturally prefer to be operating under very different circumstances, it is important that we continue to meet both current and anticipated future demand in light of the ever-changing market dynamics that mean cider will continue to be on the nation’s shopping list both now and in the future.”

The latest report by Westons – its fifth annually – shows that “crafted” cider continues to be the category’s star performer in the off-trade and this sector is seeing growth of 9.4% year-on-year.

To tap into this further, the producer has unveiled plans to expand its Henry Westons brand, which it said is the UK’s “most popular glass bottled apple cider”. Westons announced last week that the brand is getting new variants: Henry Westons Cloudy Vintage, Henry Westons Vintage Rose and Henry Westons Organic Cider.

McKinnon said: “Crafted cider continues to be a star performer for retailers of all shapes and sizes. And premiumisation continues to play a vital part in fuelling growth within a retail category that is currently in decline following a year without the same level of major sporting events as there were in 2018.

“In addition, with the current challenges we all face, it is also likely to be a sector that can continue to offer momentum over the coming months within retail.”

The latest report shows the average household now buys cider almost once a month.

Apple and fruit ciders continue to dominate, accounting for 59.3% and 34.4% of total off-trade cider sales respectively.

Another growth area is low and no-alcohol cider, which is recording 34% growth in the off-trade.

Meanwhile, the occasions in growth over the past year include “quiet night in, chilling out at home and enjoying with food”, according to the report, and these are all areas set to see further growth in 2020 as the nation switches entirely to at-home drinking as part of ongoing social distancing measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Hinksman said: “Despite being launched during these challenging times, our report once again shows that there is an extremely bright future for cider in the vital UK off-trade and that it will have a key role to play in helping the off-trade to drive sales during 2020 and beyond.

“Every year, our Cider Report helps to build up an increasingly complex and fascinating picture of the modern cider category, which has again shown itself to be dynamic and in high demand among an increasingly diverse audience.”