Fruits from the gloom

They've been one of the big success stories of the year - but can fruit ciders ride out their popularity, asks Nicola Collenette

Fruit ciders have seen incredible growth over the past year - a 307% rise in value and 356% rise in volume according to Nielsen figures

to Nov 1. But

is this just a passing fad that could go the same way as RTDs?

Several producers admit

this is a worry but argue that if the sector is backed

by quality ingredients, provenance and a limit on the amount of variants on offer, it shouldn't spiral out of control in the


RTD s did.

According to Nielsen, the fruit cider category includes pear and flavoured variants - not apple cider - and, despite the more established pear cider brands being

clear forerunners, the newer fruity versions are also holding their own.

So what is helping the category blaze such an impressive trail?

Simon Russell, of the National Association of Cider Makers, says: "There have been more new cider products and innovation within the

past five yeas than any other part of the drinks sector. In the wine market they often talk about innovation but you don't see a lot of evidence to back it up. This has been key to the success of cider and fruit cider."

He points out that producers have to be careful not to blur the edges around fruit ciders and RTDs.

"There are two ends to the scale in terms of fruit cider. I remember taking the mick out of Henry [Chevallier Guild] for his pink cider Perronelle's Blush and asking him jokingly what on earth was he doing to our industry. I've apologised since as it's lovely stuff and fits in entirely with Aspall's focus on provenance and good quality.

"With fruit flavours we potentially need to be a bit cautious about products that look close to RTDs. The strength of the cider category has been in promoting the virtues of what cider is - all natural ingredients, provenance and how it fits into the lifestyles of consumers, for instance through music.

"VK is now producing a pear flavour variant and I'm not sure if it's entirely useful if RTDs start producing variants close to pear and apple products. This blurring of the line isn't an issue or risk at the moment, but we need to consider it."

A spall is among

a number of niche cider producers with fruit-flavoured brands. Director Henry Chevallier Guild says Perronelle's Blush - which was introduced in March 2007 and combines cider with blackberry liqueur - was conceived as a tribute to his grandmother.

"We were originally thinking of using cassis," he says, "but blackberry and apple is the classic mix."

S&N launched its Jacques orchard fruit-flavoured product earlier this year, also aiming at the higher end of the market.

Keith Parsons, Jacques brand manager, says: "Jacques is now the third biggest premium cider brand in the off-trade, with 11% share of the premium cider market and growing at 267% MAT. Jacques Fruits des Bois was launched in 2006 with the

addition of Orchard Fruits in 2008.

"We are confident that Jacques' sales will continue to go from strength to strength in 2009 given consumer interest. S&N UK will be investing significantly in 2009 to include outdoor and press advertising, sponsorship of Music on a Summer Evening picnic concerts and continued consumer trials."

Brothers Drinks led the way

back in 1995 when it started selling its strawberry cider at Glastonbury , an association that will continue despite Gaymers taking on "official cider" status at the event. Brothers is now running a £700,000 outdoor poster campaign and has extended the range to include Mixed Pear, Lemon and Toffee Apple varieties.

Davin Nugent, managing director of Cider of Sweden, which markets and distributes Kopparberg, said: "We

had a very good year in 2008, growing by more than 90%. We successfully launched Kopparberg with Mixed Fruit, which has brought in a

new base of customers ."

On the argument that fruit brands are devaluing the cider market he said: "I don't think there should be a plethora of variants. It's got to be a case of not over-egging things or you'll run the risk of making it into an alcopop fad."

Despite Magners previously being rather scathing of the fruit cider category and saying in the past "there was no intention" of introducing anything into the market, it has been rumoured the brand will soon be launching a pear and/or fruit cider.

Scott Fairbairn, marketing manager GB, told OLN "it would be silly to ignore the opportunity of flavoured cider" but wouldn't reveal when a launch might happen or what form it could take.

Fairbairn says: "There is a mass proliferation of brands on the market which is costing retailers as they are losing money with them taking up shelf space.

"It's a confusing category to shop now and consumers are looking for good, safe products."

Pear cider St Helier Original was launched in 2006 and now the brand is expanding further with a peach variant (see beer and cider news, page 30).

Paul Burton, joint managing director of Intercontinental Brands, said: "Both the brand and the market performance continue to be a cause for optimism in an otherwise pretty tough climate. We have built on initial consumer acceptance for St Helier Original by bringing in innovative

fruit-based flavours St Helier Raspberry & Lime, St Helier Blueberry and now Peach."

Duty issues

If suppliers use fruits other than pear and apple, the product is moved into a higher duty brand for made wine instead of cider. A number of producers have got around this hitch by reducing the strength of other flavours to keep a similar level in wholesale and retail prices. Westons' organic pear cider, for example, is at 6% abv, but the raspberry version is just 3.8%.