Pete Hayes
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The trouble with cider

The world of retail has a drink problem: it’s called cider. So small is its market share that shrinkage ought to defy some law of physics, yet the market has actually declined by 6% this year.

It is thought the tax

It is thought the tax

Big brands like Diageo and Stella jostle with the established players for a sliver of this tiny market, while supermarkets eye the beer market, with all those lucrative and popular craft options, and wonder why cider isn’t a bit more, well, crafty.

What’s needed is a change of perception – and to get there, a change of attitude, well communicated.

Ritual has become routine

For a while there, cider looked like the next big thing. Magners pioneered cider over ice and summer drinkers loved it. Then came flavours, and when consumers lapped the first ones up, producers came up with more and more, like a hail of fruit. The emphasis was on novelty – have you tried the Blood Orange Cider or the Bold Black Cherry Cider, and if not, why not? – and on ritual. You order your cider, open the bottle, pour it over ice, and voilà.

The trouble is that neither of these ideas is sustainable. Flavours are a gimmick: you might try the Blood Orange or the Black Cherry, out of curiosity, but will you come back for more? So a spike in sales quickly goes downhill. As for ritual – it quickly becomes routine. So, while Diageo, for example, is incredibly upbeat about fruit cider, quoting double-digit growth figures off-trade in 2015 and calling it the ‘next big thing’, it pays to be wary.

So many flavours…

Jumping on the flavour bandwagon is all well and good: look at Kopparberg, with their strawberry & lime cider, or Rekorderlig, with their wild berries cider, both brands milking the potential for fruity summer novelty married to Scandi cool (they’re both Swedish), but muscling for room in an oversaturated market is no fun at all, especially with winter coming in. Rekorderlig has cleverly come up with a winter cider, with vanilla and cinnamon flavours, and an associated hot toddy. But will consumers move past novelty purchasing and really adopt it as their own?

… So little authenticity

The cider sector really needs to find itself. So many big brands risk falling off the back of that bandwagon. No wonder supermarkets are de-listing flavoured ciders – and Stella Cidre, which kicked off the trend, has been particularly hard hit, with a third of its fruit-flavours delisted across Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda. When asked why, an Asda spokeswoman used the magic word ‘premium’.

And that’s the trouble. There is honesty in cider. All those orchards, the notion of plump apples and fresh-squeezed juice and local farmers, working to bring you your beverage. But that is not being communicated well. The Swedes are doing a great job selling the purity and cleanness of cider – clean lines, clear fonts, in both cases, the look is as clear and sharp as an ice cube. But in general, premium flavoured drinks aren’t an easy sell.

The Bulmers redesign marks 130 years of cider-making for the brand (Photo: Heineken)

The Bulmers redesign marked 130 years of cider-making for the brand (Photo: Heineken)

Back to your roots

Bulmers have taken this on board. They now talk about their Herefordshire orchards, and their trees dating back to the 1930s. They’re not mired in the past – clever use of colour, including the #LiveColourful hashtag on Instagram, and the artful B logo, with its apple and leaf, demonstrate that – and in fact, rather than a return to roots, this is a carefully thought-out £2million relaunch by Bulmers’ owner Heineken, including a new bottle that looks great, although did attract criticism for being smaller than its predecessor with no reduction in price. Then again, premium brands attract premium pricing, as they are surely aware.

This clear-sighted attempt to highlight the authenticity and integrity of the Bulmers brand seems very clever. There are plenty of cider brands out there that need to acknowledge that consumers may enjoy novelty, for a moment, but what’s consistent is their demand for quality and honesty. Their visual cues are coming from craft beer – and nobody can deny how successful those have been. Which makes sense: these are uncertain times; if people are going to spend money, they want to spend it on something that delivers a great all-round experience, not a forgettable one-hit wonder.

Huge potential

Cider needs to stop trying to be all things to all drinkers and work out who and what, exactly, it is. This needs to happen brand by brand, and needs to be cleverly, and beautifully, communicated to consumers. Instead of all the creativity going into the next new flavour, it should be employed to convey that this is a proud brand, with a delicious product and an authentic story.

These days, there’s pressure from consumers to understand where a product comes from, to feel they can trust what is being delivered, both the message and the product: in a busy world, they want to spend their money on quality, and receive reassurance that that’s what they’re doing.

Strongbow's sponsorship of the Team GB at the Rio Olympics will include a multi million-pound (Photo: Strongbow)


Untapped opportunities

Where are the limited editions, the exciting designs and the beautiful packaging? Why does cider hardly ever appear in a can, apart from Rekorderlig’s canned cocktails? If craft beer brewers are embracing the can for its ability to keep the beer stable for longer, to be more transportable, and cool down quicker in a fridge, then why are cider makers not tapping into this?

They’d need to boast attractive packaging, as Rekorderlig’s does, to remove all thoughts of Strongbow or Snakebite. But that’s the job of great design: to tell a story, clearly and simply, to snag that fleeting glance in a supermarket aisle or behind a bar and with a 360-degree space to work this, there’s potential for eye-catching design.

And once the design is right, the brand is freed up to experiment and without loss of consumer interest. New flavours, then, come into their own: if the consumer loves and trusts the brand, they’ll welcome a bit of variety. Without that, it just smacks of desperation. It’s time for cider to find itself. That, or watch its market melt away like an ice cube in the summer sun.

Pete Hayes and Ben Lambert founded brand and packaging design agency PB Creative in 2010, having worked together for over 15 years at various big name design and branding agencies in and around London.

5 Responses to “The trouble with cider”

  1. Curt Sherrer says:

    Hi Pete,

    A big question to be answered is “what portions or segments of the cider industry are represented in the data?” My opinion, products like Angry Orchard and other sweetish six-pack ciders are not much different than Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Heck, they may even overlap. Isn’t it that segment alone that is represented by the cited data? Such cider products are a fad and it is fading. Really no surprise there.

    What might be more relevant today is what is happening in the “true” craft cider market. Ciders that are based on quality and not quantity. They are a very small percentage of the market, no doubt, and the data (most likely) does not reflect its growth.. But it was from these same small percentages that the Napa and premium U.S. wine markets evolved. Same for the craft beer market. I expect it will take years for the true craft cider market to grow and mature and it needs to be recognized as individual a cider market as Miller Light is to Dogfish Head, or Mondavi is to Gallo. All cider is not created equal and they need to have proper representation.

  2. Pete Hayes says:

    Hi Curt,
    Thanks so much for reading and engaging with the piece. It was written in response to the impact on sales that the bigger cider brands have witnessed in the UK recently with supermarkets delisting lines, and the role that brand identity and design can play in cleverly communicating authenticity and quality first and foremost to address this. While cider brands – from the big producers to the niche craft brands – will each have a very different story to tell, it’s important that that story is delivered beautifully and with clarity so that consumers come to love and trust a brand for what it stands for rather than its latest flavour.

  3. Darlene Hayes says:

    Hi Pete,

    I understand your point about identity and branding, but a pretty package will never make up for disappointment with the contents of the bottle. There is no mass market cider in the world that is made from 100% juice; they are largely water and sugar with a small amount of anything that came from an orchard. Even a consumer that knows nothing about cider can taste the difference between a true orchard-based cider and one that merely nods in that direction. Perhaps the market decline you describe is more reflective of dissatisfaction with the lack of character of the product as Curt suggests. You can dress a pig up, but that still won’t make it a princess.

  4. Pete Hayes says:

    Hi Darlene,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I too would love to see more true orchard-based cider in the world!

  5. Woody says:

    Check out Heavens Gate. Made in Devon with ONLY with Devon grown apples plus Devon grown blueberries. Zero apple concentrate! Plus has much less sugar than the big cheap brands. Currently only available in Devon and M5 Gloucester Service…a small brand but watch this space.

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