After three months behind closed doors, pubs are emerging from lockdown on 4 July into peak fruit cider season.
“Fruit cider is loved for its flavour and is the summer drink,” Kopparberg category controller Anne Claypole says.
According to International Research Institute data, cider has seen the fastest growth of any beer, wine and spirits category during lockdown with demand showing no signs of slowing.
“Fruit cider has grown by 73% in the four weeks to 17 May in the off trade, for example, with apple variants increasing 54%,” Claypole highlights.
“As people spend more time in beer gardens as a treat make sure you’re stocking the categories your customers love,” she continues. “Lockdown has further reinforced the fact that the British population love cider and in particular, fruit cider.”
But with ever-growing modern cider variants ranging from more traditional fruity fare to sweet shop stalwarts, how can operators weed out the bad apples and keep their customers sweet when they flock back to the on-trade?
View from lockdown
“As time has gone on in lockdown, the way that people shop has understandably changed and Covid-19 has had a big effect on how people spend their money,” Anne Claypole, Kopparberg category controller says.
“With holidays and events cancelled, those individuals working from home or furloughed may have seen an increase in their disposable income in line with planned events they may have otherwise saved for, not going ahead.
“In the initial stages, we saw consumers panic buying essentials such as hand sanitiser, pasta and loo roll, however in the last four weeks, we’ve seen consumers looking to premiumise the time they spent at home, by buying into the brands they love the most.
“Beer, wine and spirits has seen the biggest category growth suggesting consumers are trying to make the most of the current situation and the beautiful weather and treat themselves.
“The brands that have come out on top in this situation provide something special for the consumer.
“Bars and pubs that take notice of the brands that have performed well during lockdown and range accordingly will be the real winners when the on trade can finally reopen its doors again at the beginning of July.
“Within beer, wine and spirits, fruity and refreshing drinks have seen a massive resurgence, with cider growing the fastest at 49% and fruit cider specifically at 73%. The only category showing greater growth is in premixed spirits, as consumers understandably look for ways to recreate an in-bar experience at home, or while enjoying the ease in lockdown restrictions outdoors.
“As restrictions ease even further and the on trade begins to open its doors, we expect consumers to continue to buy into the categories and more importantly the brands they have been enjoying in their own homes.
“This, therefore, makes it vital for operators to ensure they are stocking the brands that have seen the greatest success during the pandemic, in a bid to guarantee satisfied customers as they flock back to into the trade.”
According to Claypole, it will be crucial for pub operators to cherry pick top performing flavoured ciders when building their post-lockdown drinks offer. She argues that the category’s low hanging fruit can be found at the premium end of the market.
“Prior to lockdown we were seeing a trend for premiumisation, as well as a move towards experiential and shared experiences,” she says.
“We believe these will continue, if not accelerate, but in a slightly different way, taking into consideration social distancing regulations and perhaps fewer, but longer and more lucrative visits to the on trade – as consumers will now, more than ever, consider this a real luxury.
Claypole adds that she fully expects to see drinkers opting for “less but better” from the fruit cider category when pubs and bars resume trading this summer.
“This trend has been growing steadily over the last few years, where we see drinkers drinking less per occasion, but trading up and treating themselves when out in the trade, and following the lifting of restrictions, we expect this to continue,” she explains.
“Going out will be the ultimate treat and consumers will look forward to rewarding themselves once in outlet. Consumers will also be looking to their favourites from lockdown and continue to buy into these brands, making it vital for operators to stock the best performing brands per category.”
Pick top performers
According to Claypole, the nation’s favourite fruit cider brands remained the apple of drinkers’ eyes during lockdown citing “a massive swing” of consumers gravitating to their favourite brands rather than branching out.
“Kopparberg has seen huge levels of growth during the last 12 weeks, with this period of growth alone outperforming the total brand value sales of Rekorderlig, Old Mout and Bulmers combined,” she says.
Highlighting research by CGA, Claypole adds that 85% of drinkers will naturally plump for their favourite brand when ordering.
“Another point to note, as face to face service in bars will be limited, with table service and app ordering taking precedent as the on trade reopens, drinkers will have time to peruse the menu rather than panic ordering at the bar,” she adds. “Considering this we expect to see drinkers taking their time to pick out their favourite brands and drinks.
“Taking the above into account, it will be increasingly important for operators to stock the brands that drinkers want – imagine waiting to go to the pub for three months only to find out that they don’t have your favourite pint.”
Claypole adds that the “big hitters and “proven winners” from the flavoured cider category have continued to bear fruit during lockdown – which she says makes it even more important for operators to harvest category leading flavours when trade resumes.
According to CGA figures, strawberry and lime variants continue to be the pick of the flavoured cider category with Claypole highlighting that strawberry and mixed or dark berry flavours delivered 79% of fruit cider sales in the 12 weeks to 23 May.
What’s more, she adds that strawberry and mixed fruit flavours saw the biggest growth over the same period, growing by 55% and 62% respectively.
However, Claypole adds that blending tried and tested flavours with new and novel variants could prove fruitful for post-lockdown operators, with two-thirds of cider drinkers enjoying experimentation and trying new flavours, according to CGA findings.
“To keep things interesting for their consumers, operators should consider introducing a single new flavour from the number of new flavours that are introduced annually by producers,” she explains.
“This year, Kopparberg have introduced its new Cherry variant after overwhelming requests from consumers and the initial response has been amazing.”
Speaking to The Morning Advertiser in 2019, licensee Andy Mounsey, who operates 2019 Great British Pub Awards best for cider finalist the Star in Godalming, Surrey, adds that exotic flavours look set to be the next big thing.
“In the past few years, we have seen lots of new flavours being introduced to cider to encourage a younger trendier clientele,” he says.
With all but the most discerning of consumers having access to range of garnish and an extensive glassware selection during lockdown, Claypole argues that likening home and on-trade cider-drinking experiences is like comparing apples and oranges.
As such, such Claypole says the perfect pub serve has never been more important in enticing Brits off the sofa and back to the pub during uncertain times.
“While packaged is still performing well, it is worth noting that draught fruit cider is in growth and because this serve is more difficult or costly for consumers to recreate in their own home we expect to see massive demand for draught when the on trade reopens,” she says. “Attention should be paid to this when considering range and front of bar space.
“With draught fruit growing rapidly prior to Covid-19 and expected to surge following lifting of restrictions, operators must ensure they have the best offers for their customers and relevant point of sale and branded glassware for standout and differentiation.
“A perfect cold pint or cider or an over ice serve with fruit garnishes in a branded glass is exactly what consumers have been waiting for, anything sub-standard will be met with disappointment as consumers flock back to the on trade, hotly anticipating their most loved drinks."
Low and no options
According to Claypole, as operators look toward to the on-trade reopening its doors, the consideration of low and no alcohol cider options is more important than ever.
“People are less inclined to use public transport so travelling by car to your local will become the norm and there will always be a designated driver, so it makes sense for operators to ensure they are providing a responsible – and desirable – alternative,” she says.
“Additionally, for many that don’t drink, the pub will provide a great opportunity for these individuals to socialise responsibly – again, making sure you have the right range will make pubs a great meeting location.”
What’s more, Claypole adds that operators can tap into the ever-growing wellness agenda by stocking low and no options.
“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 67% of British consumers stated that they were proactively trying to lead healthier lifestyles and considering recent circumstances, we expect that figure to have increased,” she says.
“In support of this, we saw a 37% year-on-year growth in low and no sales through the off trade at the start of lockdown, suggesting consumers are increasingly seeking low and no options to support their wellness goals during this period.
Claypole continues that Kopparberg has already plucked the proven winners from its fruit cider range and used them as a base for low and no variants – an approach she say is seeing the cider giant reap the fruits of its labour.
“Through Kopparberg’s understanding of the market and our consumers, the Kopparberg Alcohol Free range is the most popular alcohol-free cider range and is available in the best performing variants, Strawberry & Lime, Mixed Fruit and Pear,” she says.
“Having an alcohol-free version of our best performing variants was a natural progression for the brand as the trend, for a large portion of the population, moves towards moderating intake of alcohol as a result or health, wellness or responsibility reasons and we feel operators should look to support this trend by diversifying their ranges and ensuring they have an adequate no and low range.”
While a multitude of low-and-no alcohol products are without doubt the pick of the health and wellness drinks market - consumers are increasingly opting for low calorie options or variants catering for specific dietary needs according to a number of publicans.
According to research from Mintel in November 2018, 78% of 18 to 35-year-olds are conscious of the calories in alcohol they drink and are looking for alternatives – an increase from 30% in 2012.
The Star in Godalming’s Mounsey says the drinks market is becoming more aware of dietary needs.
“With cider, as well as other drinks, the focus is shifting to quality rather than quantity and offering as much choice as possible, such as gluten-free, low alcohol, etc.” he says.
Speaking to MA in 2019, Publican Liz Aspden of the Harlequin in Sheffield, South Yorkshire - which was shortlisted for the Best Cider Pub for the Great British Pub Awards 2016 - pondered whether producers may plump for visually striking products rather than new flavour innovation in light of the clamour for products like pink gin.
“In terms of future products in this category, I wonder whether we’ll see producers concentrating on colour rather than special flavours,” she says, “such as drinks that sound like they’ll be pink in appearance, regardless of whichever fruit or syrup is in there – a lot of drinkers drink by brand name.”
How do ya' like them apples?
However, with more than half (55%) of the 122 new cider products introduced to the drinks market in 2019 being apple-based - compared to 39% fruit ciders - according to CGA, it’s vital that any cider range has a traditional core.
What’s more, while the MA 2019 Drinks List cider category featured more fruit ciders than ever before – with Kopparberg’s Strawberry & Lime and Mixed Fruit variants both featuring in the top ten – half of the top ten were still apple based, demonstrating a sustained consumer appetite despite a growing thirst for fruit variants.