Aston Manor in £2.5 million orchard investment

Aston Manor has signalled its confidence in the future of the UK’s cider market by investing £2.5 million in 1,000 acres of new orchards in Herefordshire.

The UK’s second-largest cider producer, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, will plant 350,000 trees over the next three years. It has handed 25 local producers 25-year con- tracts to cultivate the orchards.

New managing director Gordon Johncox told OLN: “We are securing long-term security and quality of supply for retailers.”

Aston Manor’s cider sales have doubled in the past three years and it has planted a small number of orchards around the 300 acres that already sup- ply the business to meet growing demand.

But after seeing turnover rise to £106 million last year – up from £79 million the previous year – and forecasting further double-digit growth when this

year’s figures are published, it decided to make the investment.

Johncox, who was previously managing director at Magners GB and joined Aston Manor in 2011 as sales and marketing director, said: “Last year was a tricky year. The growth in cider that had looked unstoppable over the previous seven years slowed down significantly.

“But 2012 was a bad year for every- body. Given a normal climate I’m sure cider will be back in growth.

“More and more people are trying cider, but it’s still got a long way to go in terms of penetration, so I am confident in its future.”

Johncox added that much of the cider produced will go towards improving “capability and capacity” in private label.

He said: “We are the largest supplier of private label in the UK. Our independent and private ownership brings the opportunity to genuinely be an entrepreneurial business.

“We can respond to customers’ needs very quickly and we are freed from bureaucracy.”

Aston Manor recently announced that its Kingstone Press brand would sponsor the Rugby League Championship and Championship One competitions for the next two seasons, and that the brand will be seen on the England team’s shirts when it competes in the Rugby League World Cup this summer – a tournament England is hosting.

Johncox said: “It will get us great exposure. Pundits tell me England are in with a good chance of winning.”