As with many alcohol categories, one particular variant will be driving category sales growth. For spirits, it is gin and for beer it is lager. In cider’s case, it is very much about fruit-flavoured types.
Many producers either already specialise in this variant or have channelled a significant amount of resources into it, bringing out new flavours and stories in order to quench consumers’ thirst for provenance.
Cornish Orchards is no different. However, along with the release of new products, the producer also has a progressive story to tell – not only around its ciders, but around the wider brand.
The business was founded by former dairy farmer Andy Atkinson when it was vital for him to diversify to sustain the business.
He initially planted an orchard for biodiversity reasons, before pressing apples in 1999 and selling the juice in farmers markets and shops, which then led to cider production in 2000.
Over the next 13 years, Atkinson continued to grow the business to a point where it caught the attention of Fuller’s.
With the sale came a bigger distribution model and, therefore, increased sales. The acquisition also brought power to invest in new equipment, allowing Cornish Orchards to increase production.
“Andy grew the business from a standing start to around 4,500 barrels to point of acquisition and that was all local sales from in and around Cornwall,” says general manager Patrick Gardner.
Sales from outside of Cornwall
Before the investment, 90% of the sales were local, 5% national and another 5% were international. Now, however, 88% of sales are from outside Cornwall, with 10% of that now coming from overseas.
Interestingly, Canada and Russia are the two biggest international markets for the brand, with the latter taking about 5% of business.
During a short period, Cornish Orchards has built a strong business and brand, but it is now time to repeat its successes, with the launch of its first new product in 2019.
“Andy retired last year,” says Gardner, “and this is the first product the team here has developed solo.
We’ve gone through this journey where Andy taught Chris Newton – our head cider maker – how to make cider so we’ve got this nice lineage of cider makers.”
The new product takes inspiration from the cider mill’s surroundings in south-east Cornwall and the wild fruits and berries available to forage.
Cornish Orchards Hedgerow Cider is made using the mill’s carefully crafted apple cider before being imbued with blackberries and sloes.
“Fruit cider is an area where we see significant potential,” explains Newton. “But it’s also an opportunity to show the consumer they can have complexity and flavours in fruit ciders and that it’s not just a heavily sweetened drink.”
Producing a fruit cider that wasn’t heavily sweetened, but complex and interesting was the starting point, he adds.
A base cider made using high-quality eating apples provides a dryness, while the fruits used give a journey of flavour and a balanced sweetness.
Hedgerow is available in bottles and on draught
Hedgerow is available in bottles and on draught. It was decided to provide the drink on draught because of the rising demand for fruit ciders on the bar, says Gardner.
Such a move signals the current health of the cider category, which Gardner says is in a reasonable condition, much of which can be credited to the success of fruit. “Compared to five years ago, when I started at Cornish Orchards,” he explains.
“People were saying fruit was a fad and it would run out, but it’s not slowing down. As producers we need to be aware that fruit cider is genuinely here to stay. We have to be mindful of that with our range.”
Of fruit and the wider cider category’s future, Gardner expects to see a rise in activity from smaller, or craft, producers who are set to make more noise about their products.
Such small producers are challenging the reputation that cider has had in the past – that it is sold in high volume and often of poor quality – he claims.
Such challenges to cider’s image can be countered by the smaller producers, as well as bigger brands that are working to premiumise or increase the quality of their products.
“A challenge for a company like us is the size,” continues Gardner. “If you look at the market, it’s dominated by the big producers and, for us, as a much smaller cider producer, albeit one owned by a brewer, the challenge is around perception and making people aware that when they buy a product like ours that made differently.
"We’re different from mainstream producers because our ciders are made from 100% freshly pressed apples and by using traditional techniques.
“There are lots of producers that are price-driven and it’s competitive but we can’t compete on price but when consumer buy a product like ours, it’s better than a mass-produced cider.”
Make the most of cider
Cornish Orchards’ general manager Patrick Gardner and head cider maker Chris Newton give their top tips on making the most of cider
Gardner explained: “There’s real opportunity for tiering cider styles.
“Lager, craft beer, cask, wine and gin lists are all done before cider and it can tend to be an afterthought but, in the on-trade, it’s worth £1.8bn.
“There’s an opportunity to broaden your range with a standard [cider] and a premium [cider] or a standard and a fruit.
“Last year, we launched a dry cider on draught so instead of increasing the depth of range, look at increasing the breadth of range that gives your consumers greater choice.
If you’re limited on taps, think about rotating your ciders to keep consumers interested.
“The other thing we see is the cask beer market is in decline and we see that publicans are putting more than one cask beer clip across several pumps because they can’t get the rate of sale.
“For this, bag-in-box cider offers an opportunity because of its [longer] shelf life and it gives publicans the opportunity to broaden their range with a product that’s less likely to go off.”
Newton added: “It’s all about quality for me. The cider market is in a boom at the moment and more people are switching on to cider.
“It is something that can be enjoyed in the same way as wine and beer and it’s so important now that producers are making something that’s of great quality and consistent.”