What role can cider play in winter trading?

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Plenty of options: cider can be served ice cold or warm, and on draught, bag-in-box and bottle
Plenty of options: cider can be served ice cold or warm, and on draught, bag-in-box and bottle
Cider is often seen as a must-have for when it’s hot but, as the temperature drops and the festive season approaches, operators need to be aware that the drink still has a big role to play in wintertime drinking

According to data from CGA, in the last four weeks of 2017 (2 to 30 December), 240,588.13hl of cider were sold in the on-trade.

This is more than was sold in the four weeks to 20 May (230,309.55) when the climate is typically warmer than in the final few weeks of the year.

The volume of cider sold in December creates a huge opportunity for operators to ensure they are doing all the right things to keep punters happy when it comes to offering a full range of drinks.

CGA commercial director Graeme Loudon says: “The days of cider being a drink purely for hot summer days are over, the category has managed to innovate in terms of products and serve strategy in order to remain relevant to pubs and bars over the winter.

“During winter, pubs are increasingly tapping into the consumer demands for hot alcoholic drinks, and with half of consumers visiting pubs over the festive season switching to a category they don’t usually drink, the opportunity for hot alcoholic drinks is significant.

“Cider is one of the few categories that can meet this demand, presenting licensees with a real opportunity to meet changing consumer needs, and with the increase in the prevalence of warming kettles, and spiced flavour profiles, cider looks set to create the experience of a Christmas market in the more traditional on-trade setting.

“Winter sales generally continue to rise too, with draught cider sales in the four weeks to Christmas in 2017 2% higher than the previous year, showing the category’s continued relevance to today’s winter consumer.

“CGA forecasts the draught cider market will be in volume growth of more than 3% by 2020. It is our expectation the category will continue to cement itself within the everyday sales mix and
continue to be a staple all-year round.”

Ideas from Thatchers on how to use cider to boost your business during the festive period

During the winter months, stock fuller, rounder ciders

  • Add cider cocktails to your drinks menu – it’s a great way to add theatre to the bar and to offer customers something extra special during the festive season
  • Rotate ciders on the bar – think about swapping a beer tap and using it for a guest cider. Make the most of the demand for innovative craft ciders by choosing bag-in-box options
  • Traditional mulled cider is a real crowd pleaser. The aromas will fill the pub and there’s nothing more festive. Mulled cider has been popular for generations, particularly in the West Country where it is a traditional Wassail drink
  • Match your cider selection with your festive menus because it is a great opportunity to show customers the versatility and variety of cider.

Stable enterprise

One business that prides itself on its cider offer is the Stable. An operation that offers guests “fine food and crafted cider set within an alluring atmosphere”.

With an estate of 17 sites, the Stable ensures it has a great cider offer throughout all seasons across the year.

Brand ambassador for cider Ross Duncan says: “We take so much pride in striving to be the best when it comes to cider.

“We have an impressive offering and play a key part in supporting the future of cider. With the colder months setting in and the summer no more, we create on-site, beautifully spiced mulled cider, giving a warm, sweet, fruity drink for all customers to enjoy during the festive period. 

“But alongside the mulled cider, we also have access to a range of West Country-style ciders. With their bold, rich, tannic flavours, they are able to withstand and hold their own when the temperature drops.”

While Duncan outlines how the Stable sells cider over the colder months, cider maker Thatchers also highlights how other operators can ensure their sales remain buoyant throughout the winter.

Thatchers Cider on-trade sales director Rob Sandall says: “When it comes to cider, many people automatically think of those long hot summer days, with a refreshing pint in hand.

“While there’s no doubt cider is an amazing drink for summer, it is important to recognise that the winter months, and Christmas in particular, are also good times of the year for pubs to be making the most of their cider offer.

Last year, 21% of cider volume was sold in the last 12 weeks of the year (according to CGA), so it is crucial publicans ensure their cider range is prepared and relevant for the winter months.”

Draught move creates space

One trend taking the cider market by storm is the growth in fruit flavours and that is also something that isn’t just for summer, according to Sandall.

He adds: “The growth of draught fruit cider appears to be resulting in consumers moving from bottle to draught, which although restricting choice, does open up space in the fridge. So embrace super premium apple ciders in bottle, and benefit from the additional space you have available by stocking an innovative range of fuller, richer ciders for winter. It is the fuller, richer, bolder ciders that go down a treat in winter.”

“Draught apple cider remains important all year round. In fact, last winter, draught cider showed a 4% growth in volume rate of sale during the last three months of the year (compared to the same period the previous year) so it is definitely not something to be overlooked.”

Operators can take inspiration from other drinks when the cold weather hits by ensuring they are using a plethora of dispense methods to capture the attention of the drinker.

“We have noticed that publicans often think about cask ale during the winter months, but by discovering the diversity in cider available in draught, bag-in-box and bottle, there are exciting opportunities to be had, and you will be offering your customers the drinks they love,” Sandall adds.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of having the right ciders on your drinks menu that suit your customer profile because 67% of cider drinkers say the choice of cider stocked in a pub is important in their decision of where to drink (according to CGA Brandtrack).

Fellow supplier and brewer Heineken, which has cider brands including Strong-bow, Bulmers, Old Mout and Symonds, is just one of those keen to ensure that cider warms the cockles of consumers’ hearts during the colder months.

Beat the freeze

Heineken UK category and trade market director Jerry Shedden says: “To extend the cider season there is a number of options that on-trade outlets have in addition to ranging the right brands. 

“Warm mulled cider can drive good levels of interest during the winter and anything that highlights the category, including cider festivals and messaging on blackboards can really help promote the segment in the darker months. 

“Cider is wonderfully refreshing at any time of the year but can be helped by giving consumers a bit of a nudge to consider it outside of the traditionally popular summer periods.”

Giving punters the choice of draught or packaged cider, providing a warm option and not forgetting about fruit will mean operators can keep cider sales on the up throughout the freezing temperatures.

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