6 things successful cider brands have in common

By Jessica Mason

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cider

Successful cider brands share many attributes
Successful cider brands share many attributes
With consumers demanding an ever more adventurous choice of ciders, Jessica Mason identifies six trends that successful brands are adopting to survive and thrive

1. Expansion beyond typical ‘cider season’

The over-ice serve for cider may have revolutionised the category when it was introduced, but it also positioned ciders as sunshine drinks. Now, to begin, the feel-good connections of this were incredible, but the past few years have seen cider making an appearance in all seasons with warm, mulled and spiced variants getting a big push during winter.


“Cider is becoming less seasonal, whilst hot and sunny summer days and enjoying a cool crisp pint of cider are perfect bedfellows cider is becoming a year round favourite,” says Geoff Bradman, head of UK sales at Westons, noting that new product developments, such as Weston Mulled Cider, have driven interest and sales in the winter months.

Scott Parker, senior buying manager – cider/HUK/non-alcoholic, Molson Coors Wholesale reminds that by design, cider is a seasonal drink so outlets do need to match the products they stock to the time of year. “Cider Festivals are becoming increasingly popular in the summer, with many high street retailers taking the opportunity to introduce new and interesting products to their range for a limited period,” says Parker.

“Products such as Rekorderlig Winter, Kopparberg Spiced Apple or Westons’ bag-in-box Mulled Twist continue to be popular with customers,” he adds.

Breaking out of summer has not been that easy though and many companies have needed to give their brands a bit of help to plant the idea of cider in winter to both pubs and consumers alike. This has taken time since it has had to start at a very grass roots level.

“I believe this year will see heavy investment across the category from many brands, and not just during the typical summer ‘cider season’,” says Anthony Mills, head of European marketing for Savanna Cider while, over at Hogan's Cider marketing manager Sarah Edmunds says: “Our increased presence at the Birmingham Christmas Market showcased our products to a local audience and drove both brand and product recognition with our seasonal mulled cider playing a key role.”

Linsey Adams, customer marketing manager at Chilli Marketing says: “As perceptions on cider continue to change, winter serves will gain market value as cider leaves its position as just a summer drink. Expect to see consumers hungry for warm serves this winter as cider drinking continues to be an all year round occasion.”

2. Consumer engagement

It may seem obvious, but the cider brands thriving right now are the ones which maintain a direct line of communication between the brand and the people who enjoy drinking them.

Heineken category and trade marketing director on-trade Andrew Turner says: “We believe it’s important to speak to both consumers and customers to understand their needs, and work to develop new products, marketing campaigns, technology and training programmes to deliver against these.”


But it’s not just about making sure that market research is up to date, it’s also about making sure that campaigns really engage with people in the right place at the right time. “Savanna has led the way over the last 12 months with a consumer engagement tour, alongside substantial above-the-line activities such as adverts on London Underground,” says Mills.

Martin Thatcher, managing director at Thatchers Cider points out how Thatchers will be on TV again this spring and summer from the beginning of April, with a continuation of our national campaign. “In fact, we invested further just before Christmas taking air time in the run up to the festive period, a first for Thatchers. This awareness has worked very well for us, resulting in increased demand on a nationwide basis; whereas a few years ago our West Country heartland was our key focus, now we are increasing distribution in all corners of the UK, from the South East to Scotland as well as in Northern Ireland. We’ll also be attending a number of festivals this year – such as GoldCoast Oceanfest in North Devon, as we have done for a number of years,” says Thatcher.

“In terms of our marketing developments our social media had been a key focus for us and our interaction with our end consumers is growing apace,” adds Hogan's Cider marketing manager Sarah Edmunds.

While, over at Westons, the company has boosted its brand investment in the past year with a 73% increase in marketing investment. “We have embarked on our first national TV campaign, have continued sponsorship as official cider of the England Cricket Team and developed a strong presence at key festivals and events with our range of traditional draught ciders and Wyld Wood,” says Geoff Bradman, head of UK sales at Westons.

This spring sees an escalation of the Merrydown ‘One Sip, Many a knowing grin explained’ marketing campaign which will put the brand back into the hearts and minds of consumers. This will include “radio as well as national outdoor advertising, high profile food-associated consumer PR support, and sampling at food festivals in addition to digital and in-outlet initiatives,” says Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing for Merrydown Cider at SHS Drinks.

David Scott, director of brands and innovations, Carlsberg UK also reveals that Somersby Cider is going to receive a “heavy weight social media campaign to excite consumers throughout the summer,” showing that brand owners are busy putting the message out to consumers about the ciders available in pubs and it is just as important to continue to inform the trade at the same time so that when people ask for the brand it is already stocked.

3. Allowing the ‘sweet tooth generation’ to trade up to ‘premium craft cider’

“The polarisation of the segment continues to be felt with the constantly evolving, innovative ciders attracting new, younger drinkers into the category through sweet flavoured cider based products,” says Edmunds, explaining that “these younger drinkers then graduate to more premium and craft ciders which means that both sides of the segment continue to grow. There is plenty of variety to attract the younger drinker into the segment and what continues to happen is that the premium and craft end of the scale continues to grow and develop to meet the changing tastes of these drinkers who pre-Magners would not necessary have entered the cider category at all.”


Andrew Quinlan owner of Orchard Pig Cider says: “That search for modern cider has bought younger drinkers into the category, and older (35+) consumers are looking for that authentic experience.”

Henry Chevalier Guild, eighth generation of the Aspall Cyder making family, agrees observing that this is a trend he is seeing again and again “Consumers are still experimenting and trading up once entering the cider market,” says Chevalier Guild.

According to Martin Thatcher “with the shift towards premium, it has been interesting to see how new entrants to the category – male and female - are exploring new cider styles once they have been introduced via the sweeter fruit ciders, and are discovering the wealth of cider styles available from heritage producers.”

Cheryl Sheppard, head of marketing, Brothers Drinks Co. Limited says that this is happening because “the consumer pallet is becoming more sophisticated with trends towards long drinks which provide refreshment.” Sheppard points out that it is this trend that has led to Brothers’ re-launching its naturally sparkling ‘Cloudy Lemon’ cider.


“Customers have expanded their taste profiles are being more adventurous behind the bar, and outlets need to ensure they’re catering for this. Cider is an exciting and innovative category that is attracting more and more consumers, particularly young consumers who are looking for something a little bit sweeter,” says Parker, giving a wholesale perspective.

Chris Hill founder, Orpens Cider says that “as more ciders hit the market the premiumisation of the category will accelerate through more artisan, craft, and fresh pressed apple ciders becoming available on shelf. This will be perpetuated by the multiples which will be keen to drive premiumisation to increase category performance.”

Geoff Bradman, head of UK sales at Westons predicts that there will be “increasing growth of super-premium and premium mainstream draught ciders at the expense of more mainstream draught ciders,” and says that “this is a trend which has been gathering pace over the past two years and recent strong growth in both distribution and rate of sale of brands which operate in this category,” name-checking “Stowford Press” as “testament to this.”


4. Marketing ‘provenance’, ‘quality’, ‘authenticity’ & ‘heritage’

As we all become more conscientious about the ingredients in our food and drink, a marketing trend develops giving renewed importance to the story behind where our food began, how it was made and whether it commands a premium price tag.

Glen Friel, sales and marketing director at Aston Manor Cider says: “The origin of drinks is becoming more of a concern to customers. Many enjoy drinking British products, produced by authentic, home-grown producers. Exploring the options with locally--produced products also eliminates the carbon footprint of drinks imported from half way around the world to get to the table.” Cider can tap into this trend.


“Currently, we are seeing provenance and authenticity becoming increasingly important as consumers are increasingly leaning toward specialty and craft offerings,” says Ed Shoebridge, head of customer marketing, C&C Group and Andrew Quinlan of Orchard Pig Cider agrees, noting that the company has seen “growth and enthusiasm, with people gravitating to authentic and modern brands with character.”

“As the public becomes more aware of ‘real cider’ they will be more inclined to buy away from traditional bigger players,” says Ben Filby founder at the Garden Cider Company who predicts that “craft cider is set to be the next new trend.”

Aston Manor unveiled a new look for Kingstone Press Cider at the beginning of last year. In refreshing the look of the brand we are reflecting the fact that Kingstone Press is an authentic English cider with the visual cues as well as the taste to appeal to real cider drinkers.

Aspalls’ Chevalier Guild observes that “the sudden arrival in the last 12 months of a number of brewer cider brands on to the market has made things “a little murky” between the various cider categories though, so licensees need to know the difference between an authentically premium product and a premium marketing campaign. “There has been a huge effort to ‘upsell’ by many brands in to a more premium arena, whereas in truth a lot of the activity both above and below the line tends to suggest these are not terribly joined up strategies; more dash for market share than genuine category and brand build. This has actually meant there is a widening gap between genuine premium and mainstream/mainstream premium. The continuing emergence of traditional and craft ciders – mainly still, bag in box styles – has also added another dimension to the market place, and re-opened up the debate about what the definition of cider is – or what different parts of the market think it should be.”

5. Innovating with new flavours & fruits

There is massive consumer demand for innovation, variety and new flavours and “the fruit cider category will continue to grow with the introduction of new fruit flavours, cross categorisation and increased competition with the category,” says Brothers’ Sheppard.

“With an explosion of new flavours and brands, 27% of value growth is currently coming from non-original variants, demonstrating the consumer need for experimentation,” agrees Turner.

“Flavour innovation has had a huge impact in terms of driving the cider category growth. Fruit-flavoured cider (ie; flavours other than apple or pear) is now the biggest and fastest-growing sector in the on-trade bottled cider category,” says Grabham, adding that “the continued strong performance of the flavoured cider sector demonstrates that there is still plenty of ‘stretch’ in the category for flavour innovation.” But what’s next?

“Given the innovation to date, in order to keep interest peaked the exploration of flavours, fruits and flowers and experimentation with botanicals will surely continue in the sweeter, entry level ciders. The challenge for craft cider makers is whether the tannic rich, full bodied craft ciders can carry the delicate flavour of fruits and flowers and, in fact, whether flavours enhance the 100% apple ciders,” ponders Edmunds.


This spring, SHS Drinks is adding to the Merrydown range with the on-trade launch of Merrydown Blackcurrant – a 4% ABV flavoured cider which is also packaged in 500ml bottles. The new addition, which is now being listed by Coors, is “a light and juicy blackcurrant cider with a fruity nose, and it spearheads our plans to develop a range of ‘hedgerow’ ciders under the Merrydown brand name,” says Grabham.

Last March, the Bulmer’s brand, owned by Heineken, introduced two new flavours: Bulmers Cider Bold Black Cherry and Bulmers Cider Pressed Red Grape while also within Heineken’s portfolio, “Strongbow Dark Fruit delivers Strongbow’s signature cut-through refreshment along with blackcurrant and blackberry juices” says Turner.

“From the end of March, Old Mout Cider will be available in three flavours: Summer Berries, Passionfruit and Apple and ‘Kiwi and Lime” says Lawson Mountstevens, managing director-on trade at Heineken who adds that the brand “meets the needs of 18-24 year old ‘discoverers’ who constantly seek out different flavours that create an impression amongst friends.”


“Within the more mainstream brands, it would appear that, whilst there is no end to the options in here, the market now appears to be heading in to spirit flavoured variants. We have seen Tequila flavoured cider already and I suspect this will be but one of a raft of this style of product – I’m sure rum and whisky and bourbon will not be far behind,” says Chevalier Guild.

“There is an increasing demand for a range of cider flavours, driven by seasonal tastes, says Parker, hinting that over at Molson Coors Wholesale, there are “exciting new spirit ciders such as Perro Loco and Manzana Loco along with ciders coming from others parts of the world such Hornsbys American Cider.”

Adams reminds that “Rekorderlig has continued to build on its approach to bringing seasonality into the flavoured cider market to great success - Summer 2014 sees the launch of a brand new limited edition flavour, Rekorderlig Apple and Guava.”

Friel points out that Kingstone Press Wild Berry was launched to encourage people into the cider category and others are doing the same.

For instance, Swedish craft cider Briska, has extended its existing variant range to add Wild Strawberry and Woodland Fruits this month. “The 4% ABV cider is designed to be served over ice and joins the existing Pomegranate and Pear variants [and will be available] in 500ml bottles,” says Proof Drinks spokesperson Jed Irwin.
Parker says: “We’re expecting to see a flurry of new and seasonal flavours coming to market. Although summer still feels like a long way away, consumers will soon start to see increasingly unusual and exotic flavours such as elderflower, cloudberry, passion fruit and guava.”

6. Differentiating with packaging and serve

Some say that it isn’t what you do, but the way that you do it and standing out from the crowd has become increasingly important for ciders as the category grows and grows.

Thatchers launched its limited edition cider called Thatchers 458, which it crafted from the 458 apple varieties – some of which had been gathering for over twenty years in  preserved orchards, giving the cider a unique USP.

Over at Kopparberg, Calder says that “Elderflower is a big consumer trend right now, and we’re well placed to exploit it with our Elderflower & Lime variant,” which has a novel serve with “a slice of cucumber, or alternatively strawberry” while its Nordic berry variant - Cloudberry - which is harvested in the autumn to make summer cider is also designed to stand out as something a bit different. 


 “The key is to avoid duplication,” says Grabham, revealing that “unlike most other ciders, Merrydown is made from juicy eating and culinary apples rather than bitter cider apples to produce a crisp, refreshing cider,” and also making it ideal to enjoy with food.


“As the category becomes more crowded, it is brands with a point of difference that are standing out – though always something authentic, like the unique serve of Savanna with a wedge of lemon in the neck of the bottle,” says Mills.

While, over at Orpens, Hill describes the cider’s USP as it having a  natural approach to packaging: “All our labels, shelf ready packaging and outer cases are on uncoated paper stock with less varnishes and treatments (although they have been extensively tested for durability). This more natural approach is in keeping with the brand identity and aligns with our philosophy of sustainability, authenticity and realness.”

Kopparberg has what it calls “the world’s most stealable glass” after feedback showed many were going missing it ramped up production and saw it as a selling point. For Aston Manor brand Kingstone Press, having a 500ml PET bottle “offers opportunities for different occasions and venues, when PET is more appropriate than glass,” says Friel.

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