by Sally Colby
Carla Snyder, Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Marketing Educator with Penn State University, calls hard cider the fastest growing segment of the craft beverage market.
“Cider has proven to be the world’s fastest growing beverage category over the last 10 years,” said Snyder. “What can we do to support this growth?”
Overall, cider sales are slowing, and industry growth in 2015 was less than in 2014. However, Snyder noted that those statistics are based on large commercial cider producers who market through grocery stores rather than the craft industry. Compared to the craft beer industry, cider is second only to IPAs.
A major trend in the craft beer industry is a focus on the quality and origin of ingredients. Snyder says that it’s important that cider makers convey this kind of information to their customers.
“Just like IPA drinkers want to know what kind of hops are used – where are they grown and the flavor profile – folks want to know that about your apple varieties,” said Snyder. “This is an important educational piece you can take to consumers.”
Snyder also said by the middle of 2015, emerging cider flavors included ginger, espresso, cinnamon, pumpkin and other seasonal flavors. Some cider makers were using barrel aging techniques or adding hops, and creating ciders sweetened with other fruits including pear, blackberry and peach.
“When these flavors were emerging, more than half the of the total cider volume purchased in the United States was from new buyers or from buyers adding cider to their order as a new purchase,” said Snyder. “These customers were typically between the ages of 21 and 40, and men and women are both drinking cider equally.” Most cider drinkers are consuming the beverage year-round, which is good news for the industry.
Food pairings are becoming popular among cider drinkers, so it’s important that marketing plans include information about which ciders pair best with which foods. Some consumers have expressed interested in cider cocktails, such as pairing cider with spirits or wine. Wholesale restaurant customers should also have information about suitable pairings so they can pass it along to cider-drinking patrons.
What do cider drinkers want? To determine the most current trends, Penn State surveyed 1,000 cider drinkers at cider festivals between New York and North Carolina, and found that the new cider drinker market is growing exponentially. “We really wanted to find out why,” said Snyder. “Why are they drinking cider over wine, beer or any other alcoholic beverage? We found that 46 percent of them like other apple products. They like the apple flavor, and are interested in apple varieties. The majority had been drinking cider for two to five years; so not all were new cider drinkers. That means it’s important to bring new items to the market to keep them interested.”
Snyder that the most interesting information garnered from the survey is that the majority of cider drinkers indicated that when choosing an alcoholic beverage, they’d select beer. “This indicates that the consumers we’re bringing to cider are from the craft beer market,” she said. “They have the expectation of the craft beer market has already given them. They want to know where ingredients come from, they read labels, and they’re interested in the company’s story. This is what the craft beer market has already built into the marketing of their industry, and consumers are carrying that over to hard cider.”
A concurrent producer survey showed that 52 percent of cider producers are marketing directly to beer or wine drinkers.
How do consumers find new information about the hard cider industry? The majority learn about cider at festivals, which means that those consumers are already there to seek information, talk with cider makers and taste ciders. However, only about 15 percent of the people at festivals are purchasing cider on site. Snyder says cider makers that don’t yet have a tasting room should think about how they can get customers to visit and make purchases there.
For cider makers who do have tasting rooms, there’s good news. Snyder says that customers are willing to devote significant time to travel to tasting rooms, and are willing to try what’s available. “The majority of customers are seeking a semi-sweet cider,” she said. “In the survey, preference for sweet or dry was split down the middle.”
Snyder say the U.S. cider market is predicted to mimic the U.K cider market in the next five years. “In the U.K., cider is very popular among 18 to 24 year olds, and split equally among genders. Cider producers in the U.S. say that they’re targeting consumers between the ages of 30 and 45. If we’re following U.K. trends, you might want to broaden your marketing plan to capture the millennial that might be coming in.”
The U.S. cider market is predicted to grow 12 percent up to 2020. This growth is due to both new cideries and new choices available. Trends indicate that tradition and culture of the beverage are important – where are apples coming from, and what varieties are you pressing, and how your cider measures on the sweetness scale.
Recent trends showed that beer drinkers have become interested in cider, but new trends show that wine drinkers are also becoming interested in cider. “Consumption among mature and affluent customers is expected to increase with innovation in the craft cider market,” said Snyder. “The more specifics about cider you can provide, the more interested customers will be.”
When it comes to defining a core audience, the true cider aficionados are those who are talking about and promoting the brand for the cider maker. Medium-level fans of cider may love the brand but may not be talking about it yet, or might not know how to talk about it. “Those are the customers to target to bring them into the core sector,” said Snyder. “How can we pull them in? Through education, or through different varieties of cider?”
Consumers are judging cider based on both price and quality. Research indicates that consumers prefer flavor over brand – they simply want a cider that tastes good. It’s important that cider makers are willing to talk with consumers who are interested in learning about the cider making process, including apple varieties and juice quality. There is still considerable interest in gluten-free products, although most consumers don’t have a specific reason for purchasing gluten-free.
Another big trend is the use of social media for sharing information about cider. Snyder reminds cider makers that 28 percent of consumers are talking about cider on social media, but a large number of those consumers also indicated that they don’t know how to access ciders they’re interested in. They’re seeing cider makers online, they’re reading about them and are intrigued, but they need to know how to get the product. “Make sure to include information about how to get the cider you make,” said Snyder. “Where are your ciders on tap, or where can people go to purchase cider? Make sure you update that information regularly.”
Consumer trends in hard cider
by Sally Colby