Yesterday’s Budget gave cause for celebration among 99.73% of the UK drinks industry as Chancellor Philip Hammond froze duty on beer, wine and spirits.
The only people not toasting Hammond were the white cider producers, whose products make up 0.27% of BWS retail sales.
In his speech Hammond outlined plans to increase duty in 2019 on high-strength alcohol – particularly white cider – in order to tackle “excessive alcohol consumption”.
The leading brand in this field is Frosty Jacks and supplier Aston Manor – the UK’s second largest cider producer after Heineken – said in a statement: “We will look at the detail, though notwithstanding the challenge of framing legislation to make it happen, this idea has no merit.
“We would remind the Chancellor that white cider represents around 0.27% of total alcohol and is in long-term decline. And whilst all products are capable of being misused, the vast majority of white cider is enjoyed by people on low incomes without issue.
“On the issue of alcohol misuse then the frontline professionals supporting people in crisis reject the targeting of specific products as it merely displaces misuse and might even make matters worse. We shared this independent research with the Treasury as part of the consultation process.
“What this action will mean is that the vast majority of white cider consumers – not the Chancellor and his friends perhaps – will be disproportionately penalised. Typically lower-income households, these ‘Just About Managing’ [people] are lower per capita alcohol consumers.
“Either they will forgo enjoying a drink or they will simply switch to another category. When drinkers switch from cider they choose higher strength wines and spirits – products that are in most instances imported with a significant carbon footprint.
“We have just finished a record harvest and made the first payments to local growers on new orchards that will exceed £55 million over the next 25 years and this action clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the challenges we face.
“Our investment plans are measured in decades so we needed a sensible and long-term approach to duty and this is far from that.”
The National Association of Cidermakers said it was pleased that duty will freeze on most cider, but disappointed that the Chancellor ignored calls for a 2p per pint duty cut, while it called for more information on the new duty band for white cider.
NACM chair Helen Thomas added: “We will be looking at the details of this new duty band to ensure that it does not adversely impact the ongoing success of cider makers across the UK, whatever their size.
“The announcement in the budget indicated that the Treasury intend to create a new duty band for cider falling just below the current threshold, between the high and low duty bands that are already in place. The announcement suggested a new band would be between 6.9% and 7.5% ABV and would impact only a small percentage of the cider market.
“At this stage, we are working with our members and the regional associations that represent the smaller cider makers, to better understand the real impacts. The Treasury have indicated that the introduction of the new band will be included in the 2018 finance bill and at this stage have offered no details regarding the level of duty that will be applied. As such it is difficult to fully understand the impact to cider makers, and we therefore aim to work with the Treasury in the coming weeks to provide better clarity for all cider makers.”