Cheers! The cider house rules, OK

It was once the preserve of down-at-heel men slumped on park benches. But soaring sales of Magners show the apple-based drink is back in fashion. Jonathan Brown reports

Golden light floods into an autumnal orchard as apples are harvested in the time-honoured tradition. The action switches to an airy, smoke-free pub where young, good-looking drinkers decant bottles of sparkling cider into ice-filled glasses.

Everything from the edgy, psychedelic guitar track to the sexy Irish burr of the voiceover exudes fun, warmth, middle-class solidity, the very spirit of the changing season. The slogan is one everyone can relate to in this busy world: "Time dedicated to you".

It may be a far cry from The Wurzels, but go into a bar or pub and look around. It seems we are all cider drinkers now.

Yesterday, the makers of Magners Irish Cider, whose television adverts are being described as the marketing success of the decade, announced a triumphant set of financial results. The company's share price has more than doubled, sales are up 264 per cent and profits have risen by some 66 per cent.

At the heart of this story is the repackaging of a drink with a centuries-old tradition, but one that came to be regarded in polite society as only safely consumed from the comfort of a park bench. Today - with no trace of irony, apparently - it is being talked about as the "new chardonnay".

What makes Magners' success so surprising is how it has persuaded the drinking public to switch to a long unfashionable product, readily available in the UK, simply by convincing people to pour it into a glass filled with ice.

Yet, such is its success, that Maurice Pratt, the chief executive of Magners' owner C&C, said the company's biggest headache was that it can't produce enough to satisfy demand. At the moment, the group has the capacity to make 250 million litres a year. But much of this is drunk in its home market, where it sells under the Bulmers brand.

However, Magners is currently engaged in a bid for global domination, claiming footholds in 17 international markets, from Austria to Japan. Having grown too big for the 17 varieties grown at its 250-acre orchard in Clonmel in County Tipperary, Magners has become the biggest buyer of Irish apples. It also consumes a substantial portion of Northern Ireland's crop. The group plans to spend some €200m (£135m) on doubling the company's capacity to 500 million litres over the next year.

Although sceptics say the growth is just a fad, Mr Pratt is unfazed. "We heard it all before when we launched in Ireland," He said. "Everyone said it was just a trend, and it wouldn't last. But it has done."

Magners broke out of the Republic when it was launched in Northern Ireland and the United States in 1999. It was already popular in America but largely among the substantial Irish communities of the main cities. The international aspect took off when the brand was promoted under the new name to Scotland in 2003 and then London and the South-east two summers later. C&C invested £20m in the spring and summer campaigns. The latter hit the screens just in time for this summer's heatwave and World Cup. Shot on location in Auckland and Hawkes Bay in New Zealand by the Dublin advertising agency Young Euro RSCG, brand managers said the campaign was so effective that they were receiving up to 40 e-mails a day from people who had seen it but didn't know where they could buy the product.

Perhaps most strikingly, to a British audience at least, was that the adverts presented a new face of Irishness. Though the word Irish is intergral to the brand's name, the marketing is a world away from the tweedy, dew-soaked image long associated with products emanating from the Old Country. But the idea of these young Celtic tigers, relaxing after a day slaving away on their Macs at the design consultancy, proved seductive with British consumers.

According to Shane Whelan, an account director at Young Euro RSCG, the tone of the advertising campaign was dictated by the product rather than the country of origin. "We didn't dial up the Irishness but we didn't dial it down either," he said.

"Ireland has moved on as a result of the Celtic tiger economy. It is a much more cosmopolitan place than it was 15 to 20 years ago. We have much more transient consumers and a more transient workforce, which is great. We are aware of that, but it is really just about understanding the demographic of the market."

Mr Whelan believes the marketing message was a very simple one. "There is no pretence about it. What has happened in Great Britain is that we have given people permission to drink cider again, but in a new way," he said.

The adverts, specially filmed to emulate the four seasons, have been greatly admired within the media industry.

According to the editor of Campaign magazine, Claire Beale: "They are incredibly atmospheric with an arresting soundtrack. The collaboration of imagery and music made them really stand out."

She added: "The time was clearly right for a new refreshing drink, just as people were getting in that summer frame of mind. It is a very gentle advert, not funny, not laddy, not particularly sexy. It is all about adults conversing together in a civilised setting."

Advertisers have faced increasingly strict controls over how they sell alcoholic drinks, particularly how they represent the sexual attractiveness of the drinker and how they should not appear to appeal to young people. However, that has not prevented the emergence of cider-drinking public personalities such as Prince William, the singer Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys.

Not everyone is impressed with the success of Magners. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has declared October to be cider month and will name its Cider Pub of the Year tomorrow. Yet Camra views Magners' success with something approaching suspicion. It fears drinkers are being drawn in by slick advertising and expensive gimmicks rather than taste. To qualify as real cider, or its pear-equivalent perry, the drink must not be pasteurised, micro-filtered or carbonated, says Camra.

While the makers of Magners trumpet the credibility of the production process - the cider is fermented in oak vats, the apples pressed on the traditional "cheese" at their Clonmel vat house much like it was done by the company founder William Magner back in 1935 - it is fizzy.

But the booming demand is benefiting the more traditional draughts too. Overall cider sales are up by 24 per cent, according to Caroline Penney, from the Association of British Cider Makers. "Cider is enjoying the greatest resurgence in sales for a decade," she said.

Perhaps for this reason Gillian Williams, Camra's director of cider and perry campaigns, is reluctant to attack the brand. "I don't want to talk about the march of Magners, but the pirouette of traditional cider and perry, which is a beautiful if limited dance. It doesn't have the massive multi-million advertising campaign behind it, nor is it present in every pub. But it does have a beautiful fragrance, taste and closeness to nature and the orchard," she said.

And there is other good news. While apple trees used to cover great swaths of southern England, the decline in the popularity of cider in the 1970s saw many up them uprooted.

The process was exacerbated when farmers were encouraged by European grants to rip up ancient orchards and sow new crops. Old apple varieties began to disappear as supermarkets stocked up on cheap, but less flavoursome alternatives like French Golden Delicious. Today the problem is being reversed and there are currently not enough apples to keep up with the demand from cider makers.

But change is not an overnight process. It takes a minimum of five years for orchards to bear fruit and often up to eight years before they break even.

However, more than 5,000 acres has been returned to orchard in Britain in recent years. Martin Ridler, an orcharding team leader for Gaymers cider, has been responsible for the planting programme, which has been concentrated in Somerset, Devon and Dorset.

Stewley Orchard, near Taunton in Somerset, is held up as a model of responsible planting with sustainable farming methods and active encouragement of wildlife. Trees take up 32 of the site's 40 acres, with the rest reserved for wild flower meadows, native trees, ponds and eco-friendly extra-wide margins. The orchard has become a sanctuary for toads, beetles, dragonflies, newts, sticklebacks, kingfishers and even otters.

"The more we can encourage birds and insects, the more they can look after the problems and we don't have to spray. It is about getting the balance right; sustainability whilst getting a reasonable crop," said Mr Ridler.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own