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Last Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
Cider firms look to build on boom
By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News

Magners bottle and glass
A glass, a bottle and some frozen water revitalised UK cider drinking.
With sunshine over blossoming orchards and the psychedelic strains of 1960s hit Time of the Season, the new TV advert for Magners Irish Cider marks the start of its crucial spring and summer campaign.

Seemingly single-handedly, the brand led cider back into the mainstream consciousness of British drinkers last year.

It even got royal approval, with Prince William among those spotted drinking it.

The question now being asked is whether the UK cider market can continue its success in 2007 and beyond.

Cider is no longer something that you just buy in a two litre plastic bottle
Simon Russell
National Association of Cider Makers

The industry is adamant it can - with predictions of record sales equivalent to more than one billion pints this year.

There are even rumours, so far down played, that the demand for apples prompted by the rediscovery of cider is leading to a shortage of the fruit.

Maligned

Sales of cider in the UK grew 23% in 2006 to 965 million pints - taking into account cider sold in all forms in shops, bars and pubs.

And the pub chain Wetherspoons recently revealed that it sells more of the Swedish brand of pear cider, Kopparberg, than any other company in the world - including in Sweden.

The success has been dubbed the "Magners Effect" - a reference to the brand's Irish owner, C&C group, promoting its drink as being served poured from a pint-bottle, over ice into a glass, albeit backed up by a 25m advertising campaign.

It was a much-needed tonic for cider after a spell in the doldrums left it maligned as the cheap-but-boozy choice for vagrants and 13-year-old hoodlums at bus stops.

Brothers bar
Brothers Cider company is looking to expand beyond music festivals.

But now, according to Simon Russell of the National Association of Cider Makers "there has been a step change in consumer attitudes".

"Cider is no longer something that you just buy in a two litre plastic bottle," he said.

"It's something that you wouldn't be embarrassed to put on the dinner table, offer to guests or take round to the boss's house if he was having a barbeque."

The market had been picking up for a couple of years before the 2006 boom, Mr Russell said.

And he identified the "mature alcopop generation" - people in their 20's who have grown up with sweeter drinks, as being a key new audience for cider makers.

We needed to give people permission to drink cider again
Maurice Breen
Marketing Director, Magners Irish Cider

"They're attracted by the brands, the adverts with orchards and depicting lazy summers and also by the proposition, especially the cider served over ice.

"And it's not red or green or blue. They know it's natural."

Visible bottle

Sales of Magners grew 225% in 2006, the first time it had been sold in England outside of London (having been in Scotland since 2003 and with an established heritage in Ireland).

"We thought we would have some success, but it's fair to say we were surprised at the speed which consumers in the UK adopted it," said marketing director at the brand, Maurice Breen.

"We needed to give people permission to drink cider again - for them to make it part of their drinks repertoire, and it has shaken up the beer and cider market."

He accepts that last year's hot UK summer and the football World Cup did sales no harm.

And because of the way it is served (the ice meaning all the cider does not fit into the glass at once) the bottle generally sits on the table next to the drinker, making the brand highly visible, which Mr Breen admits "definitely helps".

He said that there would be a "significant increase" in advertising spending in the warmer months .

"The cider market is not as seasonal as you might think," said Mr Breen, who runs a year-round marketing campaign.

"But spring and summer is a very important time in recruiting new drinkers into the brand."

Apples and cider
Cider's natural ingredients attract drinkers, the industry says.

Rival Scottish & Newcastle (S&N), which saw its own "over ice" cider sales up 15.3% last year, has launched its summer campaign for Strongbow- still the UK's biggest selling cider.

This forms part of its 45m cider advertising spree, which will also give heavy promotion to its Bulmers Original brand, Magners' main competitor in the UK "premium" market - as well as Scrumpy Jack, Woodpecker and the fruit cider Jacques,

(Confusingly what the UK knows as Magners is called Bulmers Original in Ireland, but this is separate from the Bulmers name owned by S&N.)

Herfordshire-based Bulmers said it was confident of continued demand - and that it would plant about 350,000 apple trees in 2007 to 2009, compared with 120,000 in the previous three years.

"Last year was a very significant year, exceptional, and because of what the producers are doing, and how the consumers are responding, we think it's sustainable," said Mr Russell of the National Cider Makers Association.

"Whether we can see the same sort of growth again in 2007 that we saw last year I don't know, but we certainly expect another good year."

Provenance

He said that away from the mass market drinks, producers were offering more options, especially top-end products, which supermarkets, pubs and bars were increasingly stocking.

"At the very top of the market, the likes of Thatchers and Aspell's are making ciders packaged to state exactly where the drink has been produced and the types of apples involved," he said.

The demand has been absolutely phenomenal
Matthew Langley
Brothers Cider

"People are interested in the provenance of their food and drink and with many of these you can see on the bottle exactly where and how the drink was made."

Another smaller firm riding the wave of cider success is Brothers, which began selling its pear cider at the Glastonbury Festival from a single bar in 1995, but only officially launched as a brand last year.

Relying heavily on its reputation from the festival, it launched in limited number of outlets and is stepping up its presence ahead of this year's Glastonbury where it will be the official cider for the 170,000 festival goers.

"Up until last year cider had become extremely unfashionable, but Magners repositioned the cider market," said Brothers marketing manager Matthew Langley.

"People started trying a cool cider and found that it was actually quite nice, and in the glass, with the ice, it looked nice. It did a fantastic job.

"Now we are trying to get our product out there and the demand has been absolutely phenomenal."


SEE ALSO
Cider boom sees 42 jobs created
21 Feb 07 |  Hereford/Worcs
I am, now, a cider drinker
18 Aug 06 |  Magazine
Sparkling profits at Magners firm
12 Oct 06 |  Business
The sweet smell of cider success
23 Jul 06 |  Business
Brewers reviving cider tradition
14 Jun 05 |  Mid Wales

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