Getting the message across about the difference between pear cider and perry is a major marketing challenge. Nigel Huddleston reports
One of the main areas of brand proliferation during the cider boom has been pear cider, which has led to some confusion about the difference between pear cider and perry.
The answer is: not very much, in terms of technical specification —
both are fermented from pear juice. It's just that pear cider seems to leave a different impression on consumers.
Matthew Showering, whose family invented Babycham, arguably the most famous perry of the lot, but whose firm, Brothers Drinks, now markets pear, and other fruit-flavoured ciders, says: "Perry has been around for ages, but does the name really resonate with consumers? Calling it 'pear cider' means our drinkers, who are mainly in the 18-to-34 age group, know what it means.
"If we can get consumers understanding what pear drinks are about, everyone in that part of the industry will benefit."
Chris Carr, whose Merrydown brand intends to remains pear-less, agrees. "Pear cider is hitting home with people because they don't really know what perry is. It's such a bizarre market - and calling it 'pear cider' has really given it a new lease of life and brought a different aspect to it."
The apparent popularity of pear cider has sparked the launch of other fruit flavours, with Brothers Drinks leading the way. The latest incarnation of the Showerings involvement in the cider/perry industry began in 1994 when it started selling its fruit ciders at Glastonbury music festival, an association that will continue this year despite Gaymers taking on "official cider" status at the event.
Showering says: "We're just launching a lemon flavour and we've done a toffee apple for Halloween, but none of the flavours have been made up in a factory, they're all things that have been around before the recent boom. We've got a strong range."
The problem for suppliers in using fruits other than pear and apple is that the product slips into the higher duty band for made wine instead of cider. The way round it, adopted by Brothers and others, is to reduce the strength of the other flavours to keep some kind of parity in wholesale and retail prices. Brothers Drinks' pear cider, for example, is at 4.7% abv, but the strawberry version is just 4%.
The big two bottled cider brands are divided on pear cider. Scottish & Newcastle's Bulmers has joined the fray, but Magners hasn't.
Magners marketing director Maurice Breen says: "The concern is that the category could be damaged by products if they don't enhance the offering of apple cider. As flavours become more esoteric, there's a danger that they basically become an RTD without actually being called an RTD. Quality products can bring new interest into the market, but it's not for us at the moment and we have no intention of launching one."
But at S&N, marketing manager for ciders Stephen Mosey says: "Pear cider is totally legitimate and is expanding the footprint of the cider category as a whole."
S&N has also launched its Jacques orchard-fruit flavoured product, aiming at the higher end of the market. "Jacques is different," says Mosey. "It takes a lot of wine cues and is subject to made wine duty. It's expanded the number of suitable consumer occasions for drinking cider."
There's a perception in some parts that pear cider is a cop-out — a way for entrants to the market to be seen to be doing something new, when really it's a product that's been around for years with a different name.
"I'd like to see more true innovation, rather than too many copies," says Martin Thatcher, managing director of Thatchers. "Pear cider is bringing in another lot of consumers, but my concern is we need good quality products, otherwise it doesn't necessarily help the market."
Apsall is among the niche cider producers with fruit-flavoured brands. Aspall director Barry Chevallier Guild says Perronelle's Blush — which combines cider with blackberry liqueur — was conceived as a tribute to his grandmother.
"We were originally thinking of using cassis," he says, "but apple and blackberry is the classic mix."
Guild says pear cider had struck a chord with consumers because "It's not a huge challenge for people to step across to it. It's more of the same, but it's something different at the same time," he says. "The whole thing with perry is that you have to explain to people what it is, but with pear cider people just get it."