The past five years in the drinks industry have seen a craft beer revolution, a craft gin/vodka/tequila revolution; low alcohol spirits, new packaging innovations… but through much of this, cider has been on the outside looking in.
Strongbow is still the main tap in most pubs; apple and fruit bottled ciders are stocked sparsely in the back bars, and while some fine ciders showcase global variation, most regional associations with cider in the UK land somewhere in a field in Somerset.
Sales are still strong, but as other sectors ramp up innovation, cider can’t afford to be left behind. So what are the challenges facing the sector, and how might these be tackled in the coming months and years?
A focus on heritage is often a very good thing. But as with all things nostalgic, it can stifle innovation. Global ciders from Spain and France have started to creep in with slick wine-style bottles, made for sharing and even pairing with food – something beer has been pushing for many years. Focusing on a hyper local backstory can be a selling point – but shouldn’t be the only thing a brand is pushing, particularly when many consumers think in a forward-facing way.
2. Heritage and nostalgia rather than the future
A focus on heritage can also mean a focus on a more traditional consumer – which has hurt some brands during the pandemic.
During the lockdown, the closure of on-trade outlets was a challenge everyone. But many rose to it. Those with well-established online communities did well – with a market and fans ready to support them at this time.
Many brewers also moved fast – Brewdog launched its Lockdown Lager and Barnard Castle Eye Test (a ‘hazy’ beer), while Camden Town Brewery launched ‘Beers for Heroes’ dedicated to supporting the NHS and healthcare charities. But we didn’t see a similar agility from cider makers. Just a few already-planned launches through lockdown.
3. Over-reliance on festivals and summer for cider selling
Think cider, and for a certain age group, thoughts are of summer, festivals, camping, music events and more. But 2020 has delivered virtually none of that. A year without a major marketing channel is going to be tough on even the most resilient of brands.
4. The threat from hard seltzer
And the final threat to cider is from a new entrant into the category: hard seltzer. According to 2019 Kantar research, there are now 1.2 million more fruit cider shoppers than apple cider shoppers. These drinkers tend to be younger and largely female, preferring a sweeter but refreshing drink. Hard seltzer can claim to be both refreshing and fruity – and is generally lower in calories. It’s also seeing triple digit growth year on year. And while some of that growth will come from beer and some from spirits and mixers, the threat to cider too is clear.
So what next for the sector?
In short: broad category growth, bringing in more drinkers of all types (from traditional, to fruit and fine cider) via innovation and appeals to non-traditional cider drinkers.
It’s clear that apple cider in particular is ripe for growth in the on-trade – innovation in both approach, marketing and of course product development will be vital to counter the issues facing the sector this year.
Brands will need to focus on heritage – but not to the detriment of innovation. And to focus on togetherness, but not just at summer festivals.
Cider is an approachable drink that most people have enjoyed (of course they have, it’s delicious). They just need reminding that there’s a cider for them, wherever they are in their life stage.
Cider might just be the most misunderstood drink. But 2020 is an opportunity to redefine what cider stands for. It will be interesting to see if craft cider adopts the sleek 355ml aluminum cans too – given that cider in a can hasn’t had the best connotations to date.
Internationally, the picture is bright – cider is expanding radically in new markets across the world in countries such as Eastern Europe, and Asia.
Cider could also collaborate with trusted brands to open new, complimentary markets and get their products in front of new customers.
While craft beer has shifted from cult favourite to mature market, innovations in cider are in their infancy and ready to reach new heights. While there are challenges facing the sector, it also has huge untapped potential – and I’ll drink to that.
By Tom Harvey of YesMore Agency