Marketing: Cider sales keep bubbling with trend-setting ideas: Smart young things swap bottled lagers for a thoroughly English brew

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The Independent Online
BEER sales may have shrunk by 10 per cent in the past four years as the big brewers battle the recession, but cider sales are booming.

They have gone up 36 per cent in the same period, from 62 million gallons in 1988 to 84 million last year. The big cider makers, such as Bulmer and Taunton, which between them have 75 per cent of this pounds 1.2bn market, have had a good recession.

'There's a lot of excitement out there,' Jeanette Keech, spokeswoman for the National Association of Cider Makers, said. 'Cider still only accounts for 6 per cent of the total beer market, so there is plenty of room for growth.'

Cider's image has been transformed from a West Country tipple to a trendy drink for the young and fashion-conscious, and the main engine of growth has been bottled ciders. While a separate battle has been waged between draught ciders, such as Bulmer's Scrumpy Jack and the heavily advertised Red Rock from Taunton, it is the new, bottled brews, such as Brody, K and Max, that appear to be establishing designer cider as the fashionable drink of the Nineties.

It is a carbon copy of what happened in the lager market in the late Eighties, when such international beers as Sol, Beck's and San Miguel created a whole new niche. Backed by slick advertising campaigns and packaged in shapes and colours designed to attract the young, bottled cider is being presented as a product to be seen quaffing at the pub. The marketing people call it 'badge drinking'.

Indeed, cider has turned out to be a marketing dream. Coming in a variety of colours, strengths and levels of sweetness or bitterness, the drink is versatile enough for producers to target different segments of the market with various ciders.

In addition to the natural amber ciders, there is now white cider (the colour is removed by draining the brew through charcoal), blond cider (golden colour) and even black cider (achieved by mixing the cider with yeast and hops, like a beer).

The pioneer in the premium sector, and still the market leader, was Diamond White, which was launched by Taunton in 1986 and aimed at the 18-25 age group. Strong (8.2 per cent proof), and pale in colour (so pale that Taunton says many believe they are drinking sparkling wine), Diamond White took 30 per cent of the premium cider market. Women make up 60 per cent of its market.

Since then, the market has been flooded with new brands. Diamond White has been joined by White Lightning from Inches and Strongbow White, launched in April by Bulmer. In the natural sector, Taunton has enjoyed success with Brody, a drink aimed at the slightly older drinker and packed in a distinctive, silkscreen-printed bottle.

Gaymer is also cashing in on the designer bottle. After a management buyout from Allied-Lyons last year, the company has secured a profitable niche with K, a strong cider that comes in a sleek, matt-black bottle with minimal lettering.

This year should prove a busy one for new launches. Taunton is testing Fres and Moonstone, two blond ciders aimed at the female sector.

Bulmer, which hopes to be the first to market a black cider, is currently testing Black Jack. The idea is that while white and amber ciders might have attracted the lager drinkers, a darker cider might prove popular with those who usually drink bitter, or even Guinness.

And then there is perry, which is made from pear juice. The market leader here is still Babycham, launched in 1952 as the first alcoholic drink aimed specifically at women.

After a period in the doldrums, Babycham is set for a comeback. Gaymer has this year earmarked pounds 20m for marketing, including a long campaign for Babycham. Not to be outdone, Taunton is testing a new perry called Drum, aimed at those with higher disposable incomes.

Where will it all end? According to Ms Keech of the National Association of Cider Makers, there is plenty of room for further innovation. 'It's all about style and branding,' she said. 'I don't think many people care whether what they are drinking is a cider or not.'

(Photograph omitted)