Cider – and its many variants – continues to capture the imaginations of consumers. But does it have worldwide appeal? Hamish Smith gets to the core of the issue

C'EST CIDRE NOT CIDERsays the suave, bespectacled gent on Stella Artois’ UK TV and billboard ads. No doubt the irony of the slogan was not lost on the creatives at AB Inbev. Bar a few pockets of popularity in Europe, cider is still very much a drink of the English-speaking world. For the vast majority of its consumers, it is most definitely cider, not cidre. 

It was a full year ago that the Belgian brewer surprised the drinks world with its move in the UK market, branching out from grain to apples. The AB Inbev number-crunchers knew it made sense, though. The UK market makes up a 51% share of the entire cider category (Euromonitor International). On top of that, the market has steadily grown by around 5%-10% year on year since Magners’ over-ice serve defibrillated the category in the mid 2000s. In 2011 volume growth stood at 5.6%.  

Stella Artois Cidre’s sequel, Pear, launches this month but is somewhat less of a surprise arrival than the original. These days (as the cockney said to the cidermaker) it’s all about apples and pears. And, considering the success of Cidre, it was a matter of when, not if.  

“Stella Artois Cidre has established itself as the second-largest premium apple cider in the off trade, with retail value sales of £50 million and more than 220,000hl of volume sold (that’s 39 million pints of Cidre),” says James Watson, European marketing director of Stella Artois at AB Inbev. 

The pears used in the cider’s “Belgian recipe” are sourced “from a variety of regions”, while pressing, fermentation and bottling takes place in Belgium. “With the premium credentials of Stella Artois, the proven success of Stella Artois Cidre and the research results we have seen for Stella Artois Cidre Pear, we anticipate our new variant will give a further boost to the cider category and delight our consumers,” adds Watson. For now, the group has “no plans to launch [Cidre] outside of the UK”, it is content with the fertile pastures of its core demographic of British males aged 18-34.

Fruit cider

If the traditional apple cider is page one in the cidermaker’s handbook and a pear variant is step two, the third is most definitely fruit. The brand that pioneered the style that is now common among most of the UK-focused brands is the Swedish-headquartered and produced Kopparberg. 

“We saw an opportunity coming from a fruit cider market to offer a sweeter cider than the traditional British and Irish ciders and pioneer the development of pear and fruit cider,” says Kopparberg UK managing director Davin Nugent. “We’re a minnow compared with ABInbev, C&C and Heineken, but where you can get ahead is innovation.”

Indeed, Kopparberg sits at number seven in global volume terms in a list headed by Heineken (Strongbow and UK Bulmers), C&C (Magners, Gaymers and Irish Bulmers) and Distell (Savanna). But with a fruit portfolio that includes Mixed Fruit, Elderflower & Lime, Strawberry & Lime and two seasonal lines, Kopparberg has become the go-to sweet cider brand. 

“Fruit cider is en vogue – it’s the segment that’s driving the growth,” says Nugent. “It’s not anywhere near the volume of apple but if you look at the UK on-trade, fruit cider has grown 250% in the past two years – against apple growing in single digits and pear in double digits. It attracts a much wider audience than traditional ciders. Up until two years ago it was just us – now we’ve been joined by Bulmers, Brothers, Magners and Gaymers,” says Nugent.   

Gaymers Pear Cider with Raspberry and Gaymers Pear Cider with Cherry & Apple are ready for UK fridges. From this month they will share the shelf with the existing – but repackaged – Gaymers apple and pear ciders. 

According to Victoria Walker, marketing manager for Gaymers cider at C&C, the relaunch “is set to secure Gaymers’ position as a modern fruit cider in the growing flavoured cider segment”. 

Another hoping to capitalise on the burgeoning sweet cider segment is Briska. The Swedish Spendrups Brewery-produced brand launched last summer through UK distributor Proof Drinks but also operates in its domestic market. 

“Swedish fruit ciders appeal to a diverse range of drinkers and have taken share from the RTD market as well as beers,” says Luke Wade, director of Proof Drinks. “Scandinavian ciders are sweeter in taste profile compared to traditional English style cider brands. But Briska Cider, although still sweet on the palate, has a more subtle, refreshing taste than current Swedish brands on the market. 

“As such, the brand is focused on growing the cider category rather than stealing share from existing Swedish cider brands and [our] pomegranate variant adds a more sophisticated edge to current cider offerings.”

It seems there’s a lot of benevolence between cider brands in the UK – a sure sign that the market is not yet saturated and there’s plenty of growth potential to share around. Through diversification of styles and formats, the category can extend its tendrils into unexplored corners of the drinks market, to demographics beyond young drinkers in pubs and bars. 

“With new players entering the market each year and continued innovation I see the category continuing to go from strength to strength,” says Wade. “There is substantial room for cider growth in the restaurant and late-night sector and this is one of the reasons we launched Briska in 33cl format to complement our draught product.”

At Heineken, owner of the world’s number one cider brand Strongbow, the UK Bulmers brand and Jacques, innovation is key to seeking out growth in the category.  

“Genuine product innovation such as Bulmers Vintage Reserve and Bulmers No 17 are the lifeblood of the category – they fuel consumer interest and deliver incremental sales by attracting new and lapsed drinkers to cider,” says Sanjay Patel, brand driector, cider, Heineken. 

Darryl Hinksman, head of customer marketing for the UK on-trade at Heineken, picks up the point: “Since Bulmers No 17 was launched in June 2011, 60% of sales have been incremental to the cider category and it is already the number two flavoured cider.”

Over at the group’s Strongbow brand – which makes up a colossal 35% of the UK’s volume (almost 18% of the global category) – product innovation is not at the brand’s heart. But with so much activity around it, Strongbow has ridden the cider wave quite successfully. 

Outside the UK

The second largest cider-consuming market is South Africa, home of the Distell-owned Savanna brand, with an 8.9% share. 

The company is the third-largest cider producer in the world and, although the brand has invested recently in the UK market – which it sees as “still having growth potential” – the policy is rather more intrepid than its UK-centric peers. 

“Distell’s policy is to trade across a broad geographic front to reduce the dependence on any one specific market,” says Debra Clausen, Distell’s global category manager for cider and RTDs. “We are active across Africa and in several European countries where there is scope for premium RTDs. We are not confining ourselves to English-speaking markets.”

Spreading sales to mitigate the risk of single-market dependency is always a good strategy – who knows what the UK market will be like in 10 years. 

For groups such as Distell there are also some hopeful signs outside of the UK and South Africa. Albeit from low bases of less than 8% of the category collectively, North America (up 15.5%) and Australasia (up 28%) both saw rosy growth during 2011 and are ripe for further exploration.

Cider in Europe, though, is on the wane. France, which makes up 4.7% of the global market, declined 2.5% last year; Spain (3.9%) reduced by 3.6%; Ireland (3.7%) shrunk by 2%; and Finland (2.7%) fell by 3.2% (Euromonitor International). To make matters worse all four are expected to decline in the coming five years and probably beyond (Euromonitor International). 

Perhaps it’s a generalisation to say the category only holds real appeal in the English-speaking world, but for the moment at least, cider doesn’t translate into too many other languages.