Liquid Thinking

Why isn’t cider better yet?

What should the future of cider look like?

5th April 2023

Familiar with the phrase ‘peaked in high school’? Long before craft beer or craft spirits, cider led the charge when it comes to having an image overhaul in the mid-2000s, moving things on from super-strength park bench sipper, or farmyard scrumpy to modern, LDA+ friendly, trendy session drink of choice. But since then its slipped back into mundanity. Despite numerous flavour spin offs and new product launches, no-one has addressed or updated cider’s now rather tired image for some time. So, what does the future hold? 

Magners was a marketing masterclass. Cast your mind back to the sweltering hot summer of 2006, and bottles of this new take on cider were everywhere. The brand was doing something no-one else had cared to do in decades; invest in the cider category. From adverts on every bus stop, to promotions in bars, the Irish cider was there, encouraging drinkers to put ice in their cider for the first time. And its packaging was its secret weapon. At 568ml (a pint to you and I) it was an awkward pour into its deliberately undersized glass, especially with ice, meaning pub goers had to still carry the bottle with them, letting everyone know what they were drinking. Smart. 

Me-too brands galore

The ploy worked, and soon had me-too brand Bulmers (then owned by Scottish & Newcastle, latterly Heineken) forced to catch up. Then came the flurry of other ciders, who jumped on any and every music festival or activity where they could find their target LDA to 25-year-old audience. Remember Gaymer’s cider and their sponsorship of every event ever? Or what about Brothers cider? Though they were launched at Glastonbury festival, they’ve shifted their focus to a more studenty crowd in recent years with a roster of novelty flavours, from Toffee Apple, to Raspberry Ripple and Cherry Bakewell. 

And of course, they’re not the only brand to target this age bracket’s infamous sweet tooth; Kopparberg and Rekorderlig were again kind of revolutionary when they launched, with their sweet, fruity, and easily quaffable ciders. They have of course, continued to debut numerous flavour spin-offs since. 

Spinning their wheels

Since 2006, the category hasn’t stood still. There’s been many cycles or phases of innovation. After modern apple ciders, came pear, then came cloudy ciders. Next a few producers such as Thatcher’s and Aspalls tried to convince us that more refined ciders (sometimes made with champagne yeast) were primed to replace wine and could and should be served from a champagne bottle into fluted glassware. 

Eventually a mini craft movement emerged. Like the cottage industry that cider has always been, numerous smaller producers have launched, mainly found in their local areas, which is true craft really. Single orchard varieties, alongside vintages helped to introduce the concept of cider terroir to consumers. 

And let’s not forget the new wave of let’s say, fashion ciders. Brands such as Grown (which describes its sleekly packaged ciders as ‘apple wines’) Sxollie Xider (which uses the marketing strapline ‘Cider that’s made like wine’) and Sassy are at the forefront of the modern wave of ciders. But even they aren’t doing much that’s new. Yes, we’ve seen the ‘cider is an apple wine approach’ before. However, at least brands such as Sassy with their bold artist and fashion designer collaborations on their packaging are helping to visually move the image of cider forward. 

Stagnant image perceptions

And image does seem to be the problem. Walk into most pubs and you’ll still be confronted with a pretty standard range, from Strongbow on the taps, to Rekorderlig in the back-bar. Where is the excitement? In a way quite unlike spirits or beer, cider seems to have stood entirely still when it comes to revamping and reinventing itself for a new audience.

And that may be because its volumes have remained fairly comfortable. In its latest cider report released just last week, cider producer Westons revealed that total cider volumes had grown 5.7% in 2022 vs 2021 (though you need to account for some lockdown weirdness there) to 705 million litres, and is now worth £2.95 billion, increasing in value by 27%. So, it may look like things are rosy. 

But some of the faddier trends are dying down. And when it comes to looking for inspiration, they’re following not leading. Last year’s launch of a Blood Orange variant by Thatcher’s, with its bright orange liquid, was a clear play for the spritz market. That’s been a success, but where is the excitement and genuine innovation?

Lacking disruption

It’s fair to say what the category is lacking – what it has lacked for some time now – is some genuine disruption and a little excitement. And that may be a symptom of the category being largely owned by just a few major players. From Molson Coors to Heineken, most of the major brands belong to just a handful of producers. So for them, what is the incentive to – excuse the pun – rock the apple cart? 

What cider will find though if it continues to stay still, is that its younger customers will age with brands and recruiting new ones will become ever harder. LDA drinkers need approachable flavours, sure. And increasingly, they need something that isn’t going to break the bank. Here cider wins. But image and visuals are more important than ever before and you could argue that there isn’t anything aspirational about a cider. 

There certainly isn’t anything cool about the staid and cluttered packaging of most ciders either. For image conscious consumers that like the taste of cider, but are shopping visually, there’s few places for them to go. Add to this, cider doesn’t fit in younger drinker’s lifestyles the way it used to either. Many are sugar and calorie averse and here, cider isn’t the obvious option. 

So, it’s an open goal. The opportunity is there for a brand to launch a cider that’s genuinely relevant to a new generation. Who is going to be the one to take a shot? 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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