The off-trade cider category has enjoyed 5.3% value growth over the past year to reach £1.2 billion (IRI, year to February 2019).

Westons has been one of the star performers with soaring consumer demand for its flagship 8.2% abv Henry Westons vintage cider driving its impressive growth.

So it was somewhat concerned to learn of new guidance from the Portman Group around single-serve packs. 

The industry watchdog’s new code of practice states that “single-serve, non-resealable containers shouldn’t be more than four units” of alcohol so as to “establish a credible definition for assessing complaints about irresponsible sampling promotions or packaging”.

It adds that “mitigating factors for products up to six units, such as premium status, pricing and share message, may be taken into account”, but the beer industry is concerned about the impact this will have and cider stands to be penalised by the guidance. 

Geoff Bradman, commercial director at Westons, told DRN: “We are seeking clarity from the Portman Group around its definition of premium. It is saying there are three criteria that if a product doesn’t satisfy it will fall foul: the bottle must be able to be shut; overt messaging around the packaging to say sharing; and that it must be premium, and our interpretation [of that] is demonstrably premium.

“What’s the definition of that? We’ve been in discussion with the Portman Group to get clarity on that. We are confident in the premium nature of our brand. The guidelines follow on from the minimum unit pricing thought process. They would be keen not to penalise crafted products. It’s early days, but it was a surprise.”

Bradman acknowledged that trading conditions are currently challenging amid a raft of consolidation among retailers and suppliers, a new duty band on ciders between 6.9% and 7.5% and a continual reduction in pub numbers.

But he is confident in Westons’ ability to maintain growth. “Our view is that our strategy means we are well placed to deal with the challenges in front of us in an incredibly competitive environment,” he said. “Our key watchword is relevance, and our entire focus is on making us relevant to consumers and the marketplace.”

Insight and innovation manager Matthew Langley added: “Cider has once again made a huge contribution to sales in the off-trade across all retail formats and we see no sign of this changing.

“Some 47.8% of all households now regularly buy cider – up from 45.5% last year – while the number of cider shoppers has also risen by 3.8%. Even more encouragingly, value has continued to outpace volume, which clearly signals how drinkers are continuing to trade up to more premium ciders. New research commissioned by Westons for this year’s cider report reveals that the breadth of cider drinkers also continues to widen. 

“All these factors are clearly good news for the category’s long-term prospects.

“Apple is still dominant, accounting for more than half of all cider sales and up 2.5% by value year on year. But fruit has had another fantastic year with sales up 11.7% in value to help it secure £1 of every £3 spent in the off-trade. 

“In last year’s report we predicted that fruit cider would account for half of all ciders sold by 2023. But we estimate that this is now likely to happen a year earlier than our original prediction.”