Is cider on the way down?
A cursory glance at the top 10 cider brands wouldn't necessarily make you think that this was the most buoyant sector of the off-trade.
Six of the top 10 cider brands are in decline, and Frosty Jack's is only holding steady with a 2 per cent sales increase and a 1 per cent drop in volumes.
Somehow Strongbow has managed to escape the malaise that has hit the rest of the standard cider world and which wasn't helped by the premium, bottled, over-ice ciders that kick-started the failing category. With £165.2 million sales last year it has 31 per cent of the market, and a 23 per cent increase on the year before says it is not going anywhere.
Magners, the Irish brand behind the whole cider revival, managed to grow sales 65 per cent - although it missed the ambitious targets it had set itself because of the poor summer. Its regular heavyweight TV and outdoor advertising have set it on a course for growth, and that looks likely to continue when the brand rolls out its latest burst of seasonal advertising. But it still isn't close to even half Strongbow's size.
Scottish & Newcastle's Magners lookalike Bulmers Original has followed in the Irish cider's footsteps, storming into third place in the league with a massive 380 per cent sales increase. Last year it was Magners which leapt into second place with 393 per cent growth.
Bulmers' sales are less than half the size of Magners', but they are not too far behind where the brand was this time last year. Could next year see the two pint-sized over-ice offerings fighting it out for second place?
The old guard of amber ciders, which used to be the market's core, are slumping. S&N's Scrumpy Jack and Woodpecker, and Constellation's Olde English and Blackthorn are all losing sales.
White ciders, too, are down. Frosty Jack's 2 per cent sales increase almost certainly came from White Lightning's 36 per cent decline as the effects of S&N's policy to stop extra-fill start to show.
Constellation's Diamond White - which some say was the inspiration for RTDs thanks to its premium packaging - has not found a way to revive its fortunes in the new fashion and lost 10 per cent of its value last year.
Most of the ciders that have rushed into the market for premium, over-ice offerings are still too small to make it into the top 10 - but the trend is having an effect on the own-label market. Last year saw an influx of Magners lookalikes from retailers including Sainsbury's, Threshers and Tesco, and own-label sales have grown 47 per cent to £47.5 million, 9 per cent of the market.
Volumes are up slightly more - 55 per cent - which means retailers haven't been able to resist the temptation to undercut the brands that have pushed value into the market by keeping a firm hand on their pricing policies, and there are fears in the trade that an attack on prices could burst the cider bubble.
But most trade insiders think that now cider has made itself a credible drink again, its growth is here to stay.
Bulmers Original hasn't just used the power of Scottish & Newcastle's brand stable to propel itself into third place in the cider league - tongue-in-cheek TV ads and innovative cross-merchandising with packs of ice in supermarkets have all helped establish the cider as a key player. How far can it go before its owner - which won't be S&N for too much longer - gets worried that it will start cannibalising Strongbow's sales?