Say the word ‘cider’ to someone, and it’s hard to know what version of this apple-based tipple will come to mind. Will it be the scrumpy you can hardly see daylight through? Will it be the alarmingly cheap rocket fuel with a lightening bolt across its equally alarmingly-large two-litre bottle? The standard pub pour? Or will it be a fashion print-wrapped bottle of a more modern cider? As cider makes clear plays to once again reinvent itself for a new audience, we ask, what is it trying to be? And to whom? Just how does cider solve its identity crisis, and successfully reach a younger audience in a way that feels relevant?
We’re in the midst of a very slow, gradual image reboot when it comes to cider. You may not have noticed it in fact, unless you’ve been paying close attention. While granted, the vast majority of the industry seems to be staying in the lane they’ve established for themselves (see previous post), and are showing no signs of budging, a few brands have been busy.
According to data from Lumina Intelligence the largest age bracket when it comes to cider consumers is 25-34 year olds. Whereas a report from Heineken widens that bracket, stating that 18-34 year olds make up over half of all cider drinkers. And, according to them, 38% of these younger drinkers are actively looking for new and premium flavoured options. So, despite an image that skews both pretty old and super young when it comes to scrumpy and all the boiled sweet flavours hitting the market, the data shows that there is a largely young and hungry audience out there.
Cue the pastels
And so perhaps the most notable lane switch comes from Strongbow. Back in February, it ditched its long standing gold and black colour theme – one we dare say was a little masculine and ignorable – for something a little more playful. Want to attract a younger audience? Cue the pastels.
An array of chalky rose, purple, orange, lime and yellow cans emerged from the rebrand, which was lauded by Heineken as the brand’s “biggest and boldest redesign ever”. They’re not wrong. Gone is the dark, heavy look, replaced by a rainbow palette reminiscent of a vape brand. These stripped back, colour-blocked cans appear to be making an overt play to an audience for whom appearances matter often, more than the experience itself. Light, fun, not embarrassing to be seen with, the design moves the brand away from an audience that, let’s say, doesn’t quite feel aligned with the lifestyle, health and image aspirations a new cohort are growing up with.
Perhaps Heineken’s UK cider marketing director Rachel Holms said it best, of the audience they seem to be leaving behind…. Heralding the start of a new chapter, she said: “It’s not every day that a cider so cult that people have it tattooed on their bodies entirely changes the way it looks”. Quite.
Is quality king?
If borrowing your aesthetics from other trending fast-moving consumer goods – we’re looking at you, Strongbow and Elf Bar vapes – is one way to try and reach a new audience and move the image of the category forward, taking a fresh look at the liquid is another.
When the band members of Mumford & Sons aren’t harassing people with banjos, they’re making cider it seems. Bassist Ted Dwane’s new downtime hobby, alongside tour manager Fred McArdle, is cider production. Elevating the liquid to the care, craft and precision of say, Champagne production, his brand Two Orchards began during lockdown as an experiment. Elegant and clean is the taste profile the duo says they were aiming for. It in fact uses the same ‘traditional method’ used to make champagne – and long used to make cider, until the method and taste profile it produces largely fell out of fashion – by fermenting the apple juice to create a still liquid, the giving it a secondary fermentation in the bottle.
A few brands including Aspall and Thatchers have tried to revive the style over the years, even selling it in wine bottles, but it hitherto hasn’t stuck. However, now a broader craft cider movement is bringing it back, with folky cider brands such as Two Orchards at the helm. This small-batch, high-quality, low-yield production certainly ticks all the boxes for a demographic that feels as though they want to discover something, as well as seeking the best quality from the products they consume. It’s also a big help in shifting the image of the industry forward. However, being small-batch, it’s reach is of course, similarly small.
Moving things forward
There have been a number of other brands that have tried to move the image of cider on. Perhaps most radically, and most notably is Sassy Cidre, who has partnered with fashion designers and artists to boldly wrap its range of French ciders. Beyond its limited editions such as collaborations with artists Craig & Karl, Tiffany Cooper, and Paulette, its paired-back mainline packaging range is sleek and aspirational enough to fit in with younger drinker’s ‘aesthetics’.
And here, things seem to be a little more cohesive. If the question is, how does cider solve its identity crisis and successfully reach a younger audience in a way that feels relevant, and unique to it, then this may well be the answer. Instead of pandering to fashion trends, and borrowing looks and palettes from other categories and other industries that younger people are engaged with, Sassy has found a way to look like no other product on the market, while always looking uniquely like itself, in a relaxed and effortless way. From stylised camouflage prints, to cute illustrations of holiday staples, and bold, bright artworks, the Sassy brand is able to change its look and its reach, without having to change its branding. And by bringing in design partners – and not obvious ones either – it feels chimes with its values, its able to extend its reach and embody different moods and facets to the brand, in a way that doesn’t feel contrived.
Longevity is key
If cider is to truly make a play for longevity in the repertoire of younger drinkers, it needs to extend its appeal beyond affordability, and approachability. Its unchallenging, sweeter taste, and low price point have always played in its favour when attracting LDA+ drinkers. But cider’s challenge is to keep them there, as repertoires and disposable incomes rise with age. Alienating slightly older drinkers with packaging so squarely targeting a youth audience therefore, seems like a dangerous play.
Telling a liquid story, and evaluating the quality of that liquid is a noble endeavour, and one worth doing. But without a huge marketing push, and the backing of the big boys, such small-batch movements tend to stay the preserve of the few, rather than the many.
So how does cider update itself in a more youthful, but authentic way? It’s not by trying to be something else. Brands such as Sassy show that if cider is about a lifestyle, about a moment – usually sunny – and about affordable but aspirational sipping, then fleshing these attributes out through brand design, with cool, independent collaborators is a pretty solid way of doing it.
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