Chris Brook-Carter

One bad apple

By: Chris Brook-Carter - 25 November 2003 10:29

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Walk into a UK pub or bar and contemplate the array of drinks on offer, and one that many people would not consider is cider. Unless, of course, you walk into a pub in the west country. A recent trip to Somerset confirms that, in this small pocket of the United Kingdom at least, cider is alive and well. But times have been tough for the drink.

Since around 1995, cider volumes have been down and value has been eroded. As the popularity of cider has taken a beating, so has its relevance to retailers. The emphasis has been more on “buy one, get one free” or “50% extra free” than trying to “sex up” the image of cider to a new generation of drinkers. Peter Spencer, managing director of Matthew Clark, makers of Blackthorn and Gaymer’s Olde English, is well aware of the situation. “Most people tend to associate cider with either their first teenage hangover, or men with pipes and beards.”

The fiasco at Bulmers, and the subsequent acquisition of the company by Scottish & Newcastle, has redirected the focus in the industry away from this main issue. These have been interesting – and difficult – times for those in the business of making cider. But Matthew Clark has recently made a strong statement of intent for the future. The company remains committed to the cider business, and believes that it is a strategic imperative for both Matthew Clark and its owner Constellation.

What the industry needs is a market leader to take control of the perceptions surrounding cider drinking. Be it Bulmers or Matthew Clark, the sooner these issues in the British drinkers’ heads are challenged, the sooner the choppy waters of the past eight years can be greeted by a calming, golden sunrise.

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