Cider is shaking off its image problem

Cider is shaking off its image problem

Where next for the cider category? Two studies last week threw up some intriguing questions about the opportunities and challenges the category faces in both the US and UK.

Both the Mintel (UK) and the US Consumer Edge Insight (CEI) reports suggest that cider still has an image problem. As Mintel puts it, cider in the UK has “unfavourable historical associations with underage and binge drinking”. Indeed, many of my generation still often cite cider as their first experience of over-indulgence. 

Is this image fading? Arguably, yes, as the sight of people in pubs drinking cider over ice and also premium brands, like Aspall, is now prevalent.

Over in the US, there's also a perception problem. The CEI survey has found that a significant proportion of consumers were turned off cider because “it's not for people of their age”. And, the figures show that it's actually the younger generation, 21-34 year-olds, who most commonly hold this attitude.

CEI president David Decker suggests there is still a “mental barrier” for non-cider drinkers in the US. “People who drink it, love it, while people who don't have this idea it doesn't taste very good,” he told just-drinks.

But, Decker says, all this is changing. Off the back of the continuing ascent of craft beer, drinkers are becoming more experimental and open to new tastes and flavours.

Decker points to an “explosion” of new brands that are zeroing in on a “diverse” set of new consumers. In particular, he flags up Boston Beer Company's Angry Orchard range, launched last year. Three big deals in recent times have also highlighted the growing prospects for cider in the US, with C&C Group buying Hornsby in 2011 and Vermont Hard Cider Company last month, and MillerCoors acquiring Crispin last February

This “explosion” may be a good thing in the US, but the Mintel study suggests caution is required in the UK. The UK cider market, the world's biggest, is a more mature market than the US. Mintel predicts that UK volume growth will slow, rising by around 10% over the next the four years. And, Mintel analyst Chris Wisson warns that “faddy” flavour innovations could actually devalue the image of the category. Wisson adds: “The focus should be on NPD targeting the more mature consumer and improving the appeal to older drinkers who still largely stick to apple ciders and shun other types.” Despite this, the Mintel survey reveals that around half of drinkers do want to see more “adventurous” flavours.

The cider category still has plenty of wind in its sails on both sides of the Atlantic. But, with the big brewers upping their focus on cider – notably Heineken in the US with Strongbow and Anheuser-Busch InBev's Stella Cidre in the UK – it remains a delicate path to navigate.