Cider: first blush of summer

Thatchers Rosé had a soft launch at the end of last year and it’s getting a much bigger push this summer, supported by a hefty cash injection.

The Somerset-based producer first made a rosé cider around 10 years ago but it didn’t gain the popularity of other brands in the portfolio, such as Thatchers Haze or Gold, so why is it pitching this newcomer as “the biggest launch we have ever done”, with the team strongly believing this could be the cider launch of summer 2019?

For one thing, timing is everything. This year, more than any before, is the year for pink drinks.

Supermarkets are cramming in more rosé wines each summer, and pink is now also big news in gin and mixers.

But, perhaps more importantly, Thatchers Rosé not only reinforces the company’s commitment to the apple cider segment – the pink colour occurs naturally from a combination of red dessert apples, including Pink Lady, Fuji and Gala – but it is also likely to help the producer win over some consumers from the fast-growing fruit cider segment.

To date Thatchers has been adamant that it will continue to innovate within apple cider, but the rapid growth of fruit and flavoured cider must surely pose a conundrum for the company.

In the off-trade, fruit cider currently accounts for 36% of the market, and it is growing 11.7% each year. Apple still holds the biggest market share (57%) but it is growing at a slower pace (2.5%) (Nielsen).

In the on-trade it’s a similar story. Fruit cider volume now represents 40% of all cider volume sales, and it’s a segment worth £826.9 million (CGA).

Other traditional cidermakers have extended from apple into fruit. Westons, for example, thinks it will grow its sales by 40% over five years as a result of moving into the fruit cider sector.

The producer believes fruit cider will account for half of category sales by 2022.

Alicia Petchey, Thatchers’ insights manager, says: “Fruit is good at bringing new people into the category but there is room for both apple and fruit. There are people who only buy apple and people who only buy into fruit ciders, so there is space for both at the moment. We should not be pitching apple against fruit.”

Thatchers Rosé was trialled last year under its Cider Barn collection, a concept that allows the producer to trial special vintage and limited-edition ciders on a small-batch basis. The idea is that “the new ciders will each have a story to tell about the apple varieties chosen”. And of course, like the Rosé variant, anything trialled in the Cider Barn collection can be elevated into the core range if it appears to be a hit with fans.

UNTAPPED POTENTIAL

Philip McTeer, Thatchers’ head of marketing, says the brand did very well when it featured in the Cider Barn collection, giving the company the confidence to back it this year in a big way.

He says: “It is pink, light, refreshing, floral. These are all things people are looking for in drinks at the moment so we have seen that rosé is a big opportunity and it is currently untapped in cider.

“Hopefully this will be a brilliant bridge into cider. Technically it is a made wine [because of its colour], which is why it is 4.8% abv. We started to do teasers last November on social media and it had a really great response. We first went to market with Sainsbury’s and now it’s listed in the whole Sainsbury’s estate in both bottles and cans.

“But the biggest testament to the confidence in this brand is Tesco, which listed four-pack and 10-pack cans and 50cl bottles all at the same time, which is really big for the supermarket.

“It really is the biggest launch we have ever done and we will be supporting it with advertising on buses, outdoor and bus shelter-style adverts. We are pitching this drink for the4-8pm occasion, which is when we do our digital advertising, around that perfect moment when the sky starts turning pink.

“It will be more female driven than any other cider we have, and we think it’ll appeal to those aged 18-34. We will have sampling activity and there will be a number of events this year where people can try Rosé. For example, we have pouring rights at Ashton Gate in Bristol where they are hosting a series of music concerts including Take That (May 28) and Spice Girls (June 10). Thatchers Rosé will have a bar takeover.”

Thatchers claims to be one of the biggest media spenders in cider and says it had a 38% share of voice last year. This year it has a raft of new events on its schedule, which will triple the number of occasions it supported last year more than 100 days in total), the majority of which will be outside of its heartland.

McTeer also sees a big opportunity for Rosé in the on-trade, which will help ensure the brand is front-of-mind when consumers then shop for cider in the off-trade.

He says: “Many fruit cider brands are moving on to draught in the on-trade and this is leaving a lot of available space in the fridges for apple ciders, and potentially for Rosé.”

So will it be the cider launch of 2019? Only time will tell but the brand support and confidence in its success is clear, and as McTeer says: “I really think this is the cider innovation the category needs.”

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