Bulmers, the world’s biggest cider maker, bottled its own ciders until its purchase by Scottish & Newcastle (S&N). In 2009, a few years after S&N took control, the Hereford bottling line was shut and ciders were tankered to Tadcaster for bottling.
The packaging hall renovations account for more than a third of Heineken’s £58m Quality Project investment into Bulmers over the past three years. As well as canning and kegging facilities, the hall has the capacity to bottle more than 50,000 units per hour.
New processing equipment has also been installed, for the stages post-fermentation prior to bottling, including an advanced cross-flow filtration system.
As well as bringing bottling back to its 'spiritual' home and creating more employment in the process, the improvements allow the group greater opportunity to respond to key customer requests, says Richard Hill, site production director.
Flexible and adaptive
"The overall investment means we are more flexible and adaptive," agrees Heineken’s Jo Dring. "This continues to support the future of Hereford as the global home of cider.
"For example, we are now able to make Old Mout and Blind Pig in Hereford, two brands that are driving the cider category."
Bulmers began in the 1880s, when Henry Percival joined with his brother Fred to set up their cidery in the centre of Hereford. The original cellars now form part of the city’s Cider Museum.
Production is now split between two locations, the Cider Mill in Ledbury, where fruit is received and pressed, and the site in Hereford, within striking distance of the Cider Museum, where all production and packaging takes place.
Between them, Bulmers accounts for about 15% of the 2,000-strong Heineken UK workforce.
The apples come from long-term contracts, many of which have been in place for generations, with 280 farmers, primarily within Herefordshire.
Similar harvest expected
Weather permitting, 2016 is looking promising, with Bulmers expecting a similar-sized harvest to 2015, which produced a record-breaking 128,000 tonnes of apples. At the time of writing, it had milled 54,000 tonnes.
The visit with Hill at Bulmers was the first stop on the National Association of Cider Makers’ (NACM) 2016 Trade Day.
Led by NACM's Gabe Cook, the day was designed to offer an insight into all aspects of UK cider making, and continued with a trip to Birchley Farm.
Next came a trip round Westons, where cidermaking is in the hands of the fourth and fifth generation. As well as witnessing the arrival of tonnes of apples and perry pears, the visit included some tasty cider and food matching in Westons' Scrumpy House Restaurant.
The day finished with a visit to artisan producer, Woodredding Cider. Here, retired teacher and lawyer couple Brian and Fran Robbins create award-winning cider using a traditional wooden screw press and fruit from their three-acre orchard.