Aspall Cyder is one of several premium cider brands reaping the benefits of the category's rebirth in the UK over the last five years. 

Sales of Magners cider may have soured in the UK over the last three summers, but its burst onto the scene with the cider over ice concept in that sun-kissed early summer of 2006 sparked an industry recovery of seismic proportions.

Cider sales are growing at 8% by volume year-on-year, according to the latest Nielsen figures, against a UK alcoholic drinks market down by 3%.

Henry Chevallier Guild, who jointly runs Aspall Cyder with his brother, Barry, believes the sector should be thankful for Magners' contribution.

"It was absolutely genius, brilliant advertising. I was so envious," Chevallier Guild told just-drinks. "Retailers respond to what people start buying."

But, he argues there were signs of life before the brand's arrival. "There was premiumisation going in the category before Magners came on the scene. Scottish & Newcastle also did a lot work with Bulmers to premiumise the category," said Chevallier Guild, who was this autumn appointed chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM).

Their work is premium cider's gain today, with Nielsen reporting year-on-year growth of 16% in volume and 18% in value for premium cider sales in the off-trade.

Suffolk-based Aspall, where the Chevallier Guild brothers are eighth generation cider makers, has surfed the wave with deals to supply pub groups Greene King and Adnams, as well as supply deals with the major supermarkets.

"See these tanks here," said Barry Chevallier Guild, during a tour of the Aspall facilities. "Two years ago, that was just a field."

Alongside domestic success, Aspall has its sights set on export markets. Export markets already include the US, Australia and Russia and the group is keen to raise its profile further in Scandinavia, with a launch in Sweden planned.

All of Aspall's cider is made from organic apples, but Chevallier Guild is keen that this does not become a principal selling point. "It is much better to make a product and say this is good, and it's organic as well," he said.

He added that Aspall believes it is "very, very important to be precious". The group restricts availability of its cider to selected locations and seeks to avoid discounting.

According to the Nielsen stats, pear cider has been the "key innovation" in cider over the last 18 months. Around 40% of cider buyers have purchased at least one bottle of pear cider, according to Nielsen.

Chevallier Guild said that Aspall has no plans to follow the herd with a pear variety, although this is not for lack of trying in the past. "We spent five or six years on it, but we never thought we could make it sell," he said.

On innovation, Chevallier Guild is brimming with ideas but, together with brother Barry and commercial director Geoff Bradman, the three are cautious. New products will not be brought to market "unless we can come up with something that has a real point of difference".

Aspall is, however, launching a test run of what it describes as a Champagne-style cider in the US. Cuvee Chevallier, which is double fermented, 11.5% abv and costs around US$15, is the result of "messing around" in the cellars, according to Chevallier Guild.

If successful in the US, the group is considering pitching the product to retailers in the UK.

Cider has a 10.5% volume share of the UK alcoholic drinks market, compared to beer on 66% and wine on 17.4%.