The cider boom is real. The category grew 10.2% last year in America, according to the Beverage Information Growth, from 28.1 million cases to 30.8.
One brand that predates the current boom is Woodchuck Hard Cider. Like many older cider producers, Woodchuck traces its roots to wine. The brand began in 1991 at The Joseph Cerniglia Winery in Cavendish, VT. Today, it’s the third-highest selling cider in America, behind MillerCoors’ Crispin and Boston Beer’s Angry Orchard (which accounts for more than half of American hard cider sales).
We recently caught up with Terry Hopper, president of Woodchuck’s producer, the Vermont Cider Company, to talk about this sales growth, cider going craft, the category’s future, Woodchuck’s partnership with Pabst Brewing and more.
BD: What’s the realistic long-term outlook for cider?
TH: I think we’re experiencing the same thing right now as craft sodas and sparkling beverages. We’re all a mishmash of alternatives to the craft beer category. I really do think cider can emerge from this with a 3-5% gain from the craft beer category, worldwide. Other than craft, beer is flat. The overall category grew less than 1% last year.
BD: How will cider accomplish this 3-5% gain?
TH: The room from that comes from crossing over categories. We’re pulling in people from different segments. People don’t drink just one category anymore. Now people will drink multiple categories in one night. That’s why we think our category can get to 100 million cases annually in America. In countries where cider has a higher share of the alcohol market, like England or New Zealand, cider is a bigger part of their drinking repertoire as they’re out drinking.
Of hard-cider drinkers, 73% also drink craft beer, 71% also drink wine, and 70% also drink spirits. One of the cool things about cider is that it’s made like wine and consumed like beer. It allows us to get into the wine aisle but also get out to where beer is sold.
Then there’s the increasing use of cider in mixology. There’s been this on-premise craze of Fireball with Woodchuck. Our website now has a whole mixology program on there. People also use cider in BBQ recipes. One of the most active social-media aspects of our webpage are our cider cooking recipes.
I also think that our innovation series, Out on a Limb, represents where a lot of craft ciders will go. These sorts of ciders shine a light on what the category can do. Don’t get me wrong: 80% of our volume still comes from our core brands. Ciders like our innovation series are a credibility-play for their makers. It helps craft beer stores sell our cider. It brings publicity. And it’s how you can get 20 ciders on tap in a single business.
We’re constantly seeing how far out on a limb we can go. This includes our June and Juice, with juniper berries, and an homage to Snoop Dog. There’s also Campfire Pancakes and Chocolate Raspberry, among other flavors.
Our big push is “Liquid to Lips.” We push for people to sample our cider. We still don’t think enough people know about cider.
BD: Cider also seems to benefit from demos that cross categories and genders.
TH: Purchasers of hard ciders are about 50/50, male/female, with men drinking 60% of hard cider, simply because men tend to drink more.
BD: Why has there been this sudden rise in interest for cider?
TH: We do owe a lot to the Boston Beer Company for bringing the category to where it is today. When a larger company like that comes in with Angry Orchard, it lends more validity to the category. Distributors and retailers believe more in it. Now it’s important for all of us to continue to make good products.
BD: Has the consumer palate changed towards cider during this boom?
TH: There’s this move in the category away from sweet and towards semi-dry. That’s where the big boom is coming, I think. There’s a progression of palate. As you get older you palate wants more-dry products, like dryer red wines.
BD: Woodchuck recently rebranded and also partnered with Pabst Brewing Co.
TH: We’d been going crazy trying to fight against some of these bigger companies and were experimenting with packaging. We were really highlighting the cidery. Then I had a revelation. We had to bring back Chuck, our mascot. So we did. The woodchuck is back and he’s got a little more attitude, like he’s ready for a fight.
As for Pabst, they’d been working with our parent company. We saw an opportunity. They have 250 people and we have about 40. We went into a joint venture and now we have more muscle.