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C&C Group, owner of booming cider brand Magners, is "confident" it can withstand the growing competition in the category, according to the head of the group's alcohol business.

Brendan McGuinness, the managing director of C&C's alcohol division, said the increased attention given to packaged cider from the likes of Scottish & Newcastle was a consequence of Magners' success. S&N announced yesterday (8 May) that it was relaunching its Bulmers Original brand throughout the UK after losing sales to Magners.

"The competition is a reflection of the success we've had. Competition has been heating up in the category in the last year but in spite of that, Magners has grown by 130%," he told just-drinks today.

"We've dealt with the launch of Bulmers Original before, in Northern Ireland where S&N were selling it through a distribution deal with Diageo," McGuinness added. "In five years, Magners has won a 6.4% share of the LAD (long alcoholic drinks) market there and has a 76% market share of cider sales in the pub trade in Northern Ireland."

Magners' sales were buoyed by a successful launch in London and continued growth in Scotland and Northern Ireland, McGuinness said. As a consequence, C&C is planning a national roll-out for the brand several months ahead of schedule.

The continued growth of Magners was a key factor behind a set of strong annual financial results at C&C. The company posted a 13% rise in operating profit to EUR124.7m (US$159.2m) for the year to 28 February, on the back of a 9% increase in revenues to EUR817m.

McGuinness revealed C&C planned to spend EUR30m behind the roll-out of Magners to build consumer awareness of the brand throughout the UK. "That is a reflection that Magners is a brand-driven success story. We want to invest heavily to influence consumers and we are more than doubling our level of investment in Great Britain this year."

Marketing spend on C&C's Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey is also set to increase after the company saw depletions leap by around 19%.  "The brand is growing strongly, particularly in Germany, and we are backing that," said McGuinness.

He added that C&C now saw Tullamore Dew as the "lead brand" in its portfolio of international spirits and liqueurs after sales of Carolans cream liqueur slumped last year. McGuinness blamed the fall in sales on the takeover of Allied Domecq, which acted as Carolans distributor in its key market of the US.


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