The Big Interview: Martin Thatcher, Thatchers Cider

By Mike Berry

- Last updated on GMT

Martin Thatcher: "There are a lot of very good ciders on the market now and people shouldn’t be disappointed when they drink a pint of cider in a pub"
Martin Thatcher: "There are a lot of very good ciders on the market now and people shouldn’t be disappointed when they drink a pint of cider in a pub"

Related tags Cider

Thatchers has been producing cider since the early 1900s and the family-run business, now in its fourth generation, is still doing well. Mike Berry finds out more about the man at the helm.

Martin Thatcher planted his first tree on Myrtle Farm in Sandford, Somerset, when he was just five years old. From that point on, he knew his future lay with the family business which has been making cider since the early 1900s.

His childhood memories include spending time with his grandfather out in the orchards and watching some of the company’s early customers sipping cider served from wooden barrels before making their way unsteadily home.

Martin is the fourth generation of the cider-making family and is focused on building a sustainable business that he, hopefully, can hand over to his two children — the next generation that will steward the company.

“They are expressing an interest in the business. My daughter has done some work experience and is learning about fermentation. One of our mantras is that we want to create a sustainable business for future generations and not take the short-term view,” the softly spoken Thatcher says.


And he’s doing a good job. Thatchers has picked up some notable awards during the past year and is growing both in the domestic drinks market and internationally, with export deals in place for Australia and the US. He is also eyeing the opportunities that China and other Asian markets might offer.

This growing interest in cider internationally mirrors its growth domestically, with the category enjoying a well-documented revival in the past few years, driven — initially at least — by the over-ice serve and fruit cider brands bringing in a new wave of drinkers.

Thatcher welcomes the huge diversity of ciders that currently exist and says its good news for everyone that adult consumers of all ages are now drinking and enjoying it. Regardless of being a traditional apple cider producer, he acknowledges the role the upstart fruit cider brands have played in growing the category.

“What I would like to see is that we, as an industry, make sure those consumers move from fruit ciders into what I call ‘proper’ cider. That would then help perpetuate the success of the apple cider industry long term,” he says.


It’s here that he sees parallels with the craft beer market and its messages of quality and provenance. “Consumers are looking for something genuinely good and won’t be fobbed off with something that doesn’t hit the mark or is produced on too much of a commercial scale. If people are going to part with their hard-earned money then they want something that is special. Our job is to give them a product that fits what they want,” he says.

“I think it’s also about people’s tastes maturing as there is a natural progression on to apple ciders. There are a lot of very good ciders on the market now and people shouldn’t be disappointed when they drink a pint of cider in a pub. As long as that keeps happening, then the future of the industry is good.”

The conversation turns to the opportunity for pub retailers and how licensees might tap into the heightened consumer interest in cider.

“As an industry we are commanding more space in the pub, which is fantastic news. I think cider sits very comfortably next to real ale, but the difficulty, of course, is always space on the bar, and in the fridge,” he says.

“As its popularity continues to grow, then publicans will free up line space for cider, from keg beer or lager. I think most pubs should have two draught ciders on — some speciality pubs will probably have three — and some dedicated space in the fridge. I think that’s easily justifiable, but the pub has got to look at what’s selling and what isn’t.”


A big focus for Thatchers currently is its work on cider and food matching. It has partnered with a couple of chefs to design and create dishes you might easily see in a pub. The initiative has been well received, according to Thatcher.

“The great thing is that a lot of ciders go with a lot of different foods,” he says. “It’s worked well with publicans who have put their own spin on it, and their customers love it. We’re not the pioneers on this, but we’re pushing it hard because we see it as important. It’s about enjoying cider responsibly and on different occasions, and in the pub or home environment with food.”

Thatcher feels strongly about the role pubs can play, particularly in bringing together rural communities. In fact, the company is making its first foray into the managed pub sector by directly running the Railway Inn, adjacent to the farm.

The pub — which Thatchers bought about 10 years ago — was previously run under tenancy, but the company is now looking to appoint a manager and head chef. Extensive building work is in progress with a reopening scheduled for this spring.

“I believe this is about doing something good for the village rather than just running a pub for the sake of it. We try and do a lot with local people and work hard wherever possible to generate a sense of local community. I see the Railway becoming a hub for local people and being our connection with the village.”


Thatcher took over the chairmanship of the National Association of Cider Makers in September, and is acutely aware of the need to get the industry’s message across loud and clear to those in Whitehall, particularly with a potential change in Government in just a few months.

His priorities include fair treatment for the industry as, he says, the differential between cider duty and other duties has a significant effect on how the industry performs. Brewers have enjoyed successive duty cuts and are hoping for a hat-trick in March’s budget, whereas cider only came off the duty escalator last year.
Recent sales figures show that some of the cider market’s momentum appears to have been lost to a rejuvenated beer category, so Thatcher is nervous of another squeeze on the duty differential between the two industries.

“Our plea is that the differential stays the same so that we can make long-term commitments to our apple growers, otherwise that becomes really hard. Our message is fair treatment with the beer industry. Of course, the Chancellor could leave beer duty unchanged and give cider a cut and if he did that I’d be absolutely delighted and the industry would be very grateful!”


On the whole, Thatcher emphasises a collaborative approach with Westminster, demonstrating to MPs of all political colours the positive impact the cider industry has.

“We do get listened to by officials, more than perhaps our size as an industry warrants. We try and work with officials and look at solutions rather than banging the table. That’s in our DNA as cider makers. Being so small it’s tough to shout as loud, but the upside is that we don’t need to persuade many consumers to drink a pint of cider rather than a pint of beer for the industry to grow quite significantly.”

Thatcher might be softly spoken, but it’s clear he has a keen mind and a determination for brand building both domestically and abroad — ensuring that Thatchers is still around making quality cider into the next century.

Key dates

Martin Thatcher is born at Myrtle Farm, in Sandford, Somerset

Martin leaves school and goes straight into the family business, gaining experience in every part of the business

His father John hands over the reins for Martin to become managing director

Awarded the Nuffield Farming Trust scholarship, enabling him to research the  developing relationship between fruit growers and drinks producers globally

Thatchers produces its first TV commercial

Becomes chair of the National Association of Cider Makers

Related topics Cider

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