Cider: The Golden Apple of Brewers’ Eyes

Nearly 1,000 years since the Norman conquest made cider popular in Britain, brewers are launching cider invasions of their own, with the U.S. the main battlefield.

Cider, or hard cider as Americans call it, promises growth in developed markets at a time when consumers are drinking less beer but are willing to pay more for premium products, such as independent “craft beer,” flavored lagers or indeed cider.

Cider tends to draw drinkers away from wine rather than eating into beer sales; it attracts more women than does beer and commands a higher profit margin. What’€™s more, consumers are willing to pay more for premium long drinks such as cider, which has spurred a flurry of acquisitions and product launches.

These include MillerCoors’€™ acquisition of the third largest U.S. cider producer Crispin this year, and Ireland’s C&C Group, maker of Magners, purchase of Vermont Hard Cider Company, which makes the leading U.S. brand Woodchuck.

Anheuser-Busch InBev launched Michelob Ultra Light Cider in the U.S. in the spring, a year after its Stella Artois Cidre hit the market in Britain. Angry Orchard, a unit of craft brewer Boston Beer Co., went nationwide at the same time. And Heineken this year bought a Belgian cider innovation center and said it would take back U.S. distribution rights for top-selling brand Strongbow from Vermont Hard Cider from 2013.

Cider was a mainstream drink in the U.S. before German immigrants established large-scale lager production in the mid-19th century, but it fell away after the Prohibition era. Until Strongbow’s U.S. entry in 2003, U.S. cider was almost exclusively high strength and sold in large bottles. Now smaller bottles, cans and boxes have made it an easier drink in bars and at home.

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