Fruit cider: going to the dark side

Back in 1995 Brothers Cider started selling its pear offering at the Glastonbury Festival, and the popularity of its seasonal and flavoured variants quickly gave the company a green light to extend into retail.

Of course, Brothers was not the only producer to pledge its support for what was, at the time, a relatively untapped market for ciders with fruit flavours. But over the years it has been able to appeal to new and younger cider drinkers wanting to experiment with unusual flavour combinations.

Its latest launches are a clear example of this. Strawberries & Cream and Parma Violet now join an eclectic portfolio that includes Coconut & Lime, Rhubarb & Custard and Toffee Apple.

The plethora of flavours in this sector of cider is seemingly without limits, and fans of these drinks have helped drive growth of 26% in mainstream flavoured cider, which accounts for 15% of the cider category, and 3% in premium flavoured cider – 20% of the cider category (Nielsen, year to February 23).

The wave of NPD and new flavours over the years has undoubtedly helped keep this sector afloat, and Strongbow Dark Fruit has been one of the most successful launches in any drinks category in recent times.

Heineken highlights the brand’s number one position in the mainstream flavoured cider category, where it has 79% share. Strongbow Dark Fruit continues to see growth – it is currently up by 41% according to Nielsen data (year to February 23) – and is worth £136 million in the off-trade.

Other producers are increasingly moving into this dark fruit space. Brothers, for example, has added a 4% abv Dark Fruit variant to its Mallets Original cider brand, while Kopparberg is about to “go dark” in the off-trade for the first time with the launch of Kopparberg Black.

The variant was previously only available on draught in selected on-trade outlets, but the blackcurrant and blackberry flavoured cider is set to be introduced in 44cl cans for the summer.

Rob Salvesen, head of marketing, says: “To further reinforce our position as the bestselling packaged fruit cider brand in the UK, it was a natural move for us to introduce Kopparberg Black to the off-trade. As the dark fruit category grows, as well as consumer demand for premium alternatives, we wanted to offer a credible solution to consumers who choose to drink Kopparberg for its superior taste and flavour.”

The company says Kopparberg is the largest fruit cider brand in the UK, accounting for 38% of all fruit cider sales and growing 6% year on year. Mixed Fruit and Strawberry & Lime variants are the second and third bestselling flavoured cider variants in the off-trade (up 3.1% and 8.5% respectively).

EXOTIC AND UNUSUAL

Westons says its October launch of Stowford Press Mixed Berries into the off-trade followed the variant’s “most successful on-trade launch in Westons’ history”. Darryl Hinksman, head of business development, says: “The consumer thirst for Stowford Press Mixed Berries was incredible and its success smashed even our own ambitious targets.”

But alongside the dark fruit and berry flavours, more exotic and unusual flavour combinations continue to appeal to the core millennial generation.

Hinksman says that, while the dominant flavour profile is berry, both kiwi & lime and passionfruit variants also feature in the top 10 fruit cider products, suggesting that “experimenting outside of the flavour norm can pay off ”.

Heineken agrees that exotic flavours are increasing in popularity, chosen “largely by a younger generation who are looking for sessionable fruit ciders in original, unique flavours”.

This year the producer introduced Old Mout Pineapple & Raspberry and says the brand in general has gone from strength to strength, currently growing 27% and now worth £26 million in the off-trade.

Similarly, Kopparberg introduced Kopparberg Passionfruit to the off-trade in March.

Brothers also highlights the younger generation, specifically 18-34s, who it says makes up more than 50% of fruit cider drinkers.

Emily Webster, senior marketing manager, says: “It is no surprise that some of the strongest- performing cider brands are those that are Instagrammable, aspirational and have a story to tell. New and exciting flavours not only offer something different to the norm, but also support the content opportunity that social media brings.”

Looking ahead, Hinksman at Westons says that, based on the growing demand for fruit cider nationwide, “we expect it to account for half of all cider sold by 2023”. He adds: “These drinks are bringing new consumers into the cider market by broadening appeal for non-traditional cider drinkers, such as women and younger drinkers. As a result, fruit cider is driving incremental sales.”

Meanwhile, the trend for pink drinks has given traditional apple cider producers a way of tapping into this growth. Thatchers says its Thatchers Rosé (a blend of naturally sweet, rosy-red dessert apples such as Pink Lady, Fuji and Gala) sits well on shelf alongside both apple and fruit options.

Chris Milton, off-trade sales director, says: “Thatchers Rosé is a brand new and really exciting innovation for consumer choice.” He adds: “While new product development in the cider catgeory has been largely focused around fruit ciders. Thatchers has been pioneering innovation in the apple sector where there is still considerable room for growth.”

Cider producers are also observing the trend for drinks that are lighter in alcohol or alcohol-free. Hinksman at Westons says: “What is particularly interesting about this cohort of consumers is that many aren’t avoiding alcohol entirely. Instead, they might be curbing their alcohol consumption during the week and, in doing so, staying loyal to the parent brands they know and enjoy. What’s great about low-alcohol ciders is that they tend to taste the most like their parent brand. However, we should remember that low-alcohol is still a relatively small part of the cider market.”

And Salvesen at Kopparberg says Kopparberg Alcohol Free is now “the second biggest alcohol- free brand in the UK and the largest within cider”.

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