Cider becomes mainstream as young consumers dictate the pace

The venturing of South African alcoholic beverage giant Distell into cider production has changed the narrative and today cider is among the fastest growing beverages in Africa with sales of brands like Savannah, Hunters, and Bernini today make up 37% of Distell’s revenues.

When we talk about cider, probably the image that comes to your mind is the yellow fluid whose taste closely resembles that of wine. You might even be forgiven for mistaking cider for white wine as they are pretty much produced the same way, only difference is the fruit used.

But cider has many definitions, largley depending on where it is produced. In Europe, cider refers to the expressed juice of a fruit — typically apples — that is fermented and used as a beverage. Pears that are used in this manner produce a cider better known as perry. In North America the freshly expressed juice that has not been subjected to any permanent preservative treatment is generally called sweet cider, whereas juice that has been permitted to undergo some natural fermentation is designated as hard cider. The expressed juice of apples that has been treated by some method to prevent spoilage while in hermetically sealed cans or bottles is marketed as apple juice in most countries. 

Cider, as per European standards, has been in around for many years, mastered by the Greeks and Romans, and has evolved over the time in its taste and the fermentation process. Until recently, cider was not a common beverage in Africa. Few brands existed and were only patronized by few drinkers.

The venturing of South African alcoholic beverage giant Distell into cider production has however changed the narrative and today cider is among the fastest growing beverages in Africa. Sales of brands like Savannah, Hunters, and Bernini today make up 37% of Distell’s revenues, showing just how fast the sector has grown in such a short period of time. Africans always had a hunger for cider, they just they didn’t know they had it until they first tasted it. 

Even as the continent plays catch-up with the rest of the world, cider has been experiencing phenomenal growth. According to a recent update from Kenneth Research the global cider market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 5.92% from 2018 to 2025 to reach US$15.84 billion. Innovation has been key to cider growth and is expected to drive market growth in the future. Let’s dive in and explore some of the trends in cider processing that keep consumers coming back for more.

Low and no-alcohol ciders

Low and no-alcohol drinks have become popular as more consumers become conscious of their health. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the transition to this drink category, as many around the world avoided anything that could compromise their health and make them susceptible to the virus. Data from CGA shows the although the no and low-alcohol cider category is a small segment of the drinks market, it has been growing as more consumers seek healthier beverage alternatives.

CGA’s commercial director Graeme Loudon says: “With two thirds of consumers proactively trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, cutting down on how much alcohol they drink is something that many consumer groups are considering. This has given rise to a burgeoning market for no and low-alcohol drinks across all categories, with cider being no exception.”

Last year, Cidermaker Westons gave its low-alcohol cider brand Stowford Press LA a new look in a bid to tap into the trend towards drinking in moderation. With the low-alcohol market also growing in South Africa, Distell also has a product for them: the Savanna nonalcoholic lemon-flavored cider which it says is the “first cider in South Africa to provide you with a genuine cider taste without the alcohol.” 

Fruit ciders on the rise

Ciders were originally made from apples. That was centuries ago. Today, cideries are adventurous, often trying new styles with other fruits and the result has been the birth of the fruit cider.

In their experimentation, cider makers found that using fruit other than apples in hard cider adds a great additional flavor and helps keep the alcohol content high. That started a fruit cider trend that has since stuck. Some of the more common fruit selections are pear, cherry, peach and pineapple. Other options include mixed berries, blueberry, mango, blackberry.

However, regulations control just how much fruit can be added. For instance, UK law directs that cider must contain at least 35% apple juice (fresh or from concentrate), although CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) says that “real cider” must be at least 90% fresh apple juice. In the US, there is a 50% minimum requirement while in France, cider must be made solely from apples. So, in jurisdictions where it allows, fruit ciders have become common, garnering as much as 36% of market share in UK, according to Carling Partnership. Last year, fruit cider saw sales jump 12% in the UK and are predicted to become the major component by 2022.

In Kenya, Kenyan Originals, a craft cider brand has been leading the fruit cider revolution. The company has an extensive portfolio of fruit ciders which include mango & ginger, pineapple & mint, and passion fruit & lime, among others. 

Experiment with innovative flavors

Flavour plays a key role in acceptance of beverages; ciders are not an exception.

During the golden era of ciders in the US, Brian Sudano, managing partner for New York-based Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) notes that flavor innovations were critical to its rapid growth. Sudano notes that before Angry Orchard pursued the flavor strategy, hard cider was slow growing and under 8 million cases. “The expansion into flavors, among other things, drove the category to near 30 million cases,” he adds.  Learning from their previous success, cidermakers are exploring flavour innovations and are coming up with quite sophisticated flavor blends, such as pecan, orange, and coffee; lemongrass and hibiscus; and even smoked figs. Cideries are also using their limited edition offers to explore flavors such as caramel and chocolate or black lagers. “The unusual and unexpected get the most attention here, so don’t be afraid to experiment,” advises Advanced Biotech.

Kenyan originals, a kenyan-based craft cider brand, has been leading the cider revolution with its extensive portfolio of fruit ciders which include mango & ginger, pineapple & mint, and passion fruit & lime, among others.

The cider is wine trend picks up

Industry experts agree that cider resembles wine more than beer does. It takes years to grow a productive orchard and to make, and often age, the resulting cider. Cider enthusiasts however feel cider is not taken as seriously as wine with most ciders in supermarkets made from concentrate instead of actual fruit.

In South Africa, two thirds of the apple concentrate fermented for cider production is imported, some of it from Poland, but most from China, according to Business Insider South Africa.

A group of beer advocates in the UK are however seeking to address the problem. They have formed a trade organisation called ‘Cider is Wine’ to spread the gospel of cider and perry made with 100% juice content across the UK. A number of cideries including Abel, Brännland, Eden, Gospel Green, Kystin, Loic Raison, Once Upon A Tree, Tutts Clump and Willie Smith’s all the way from Tasmania, have joined the trade organisation showing just how important this cause is to the cider industry, at least in the UK.

Members of the trade organization now have a generic logo that can be stuck to bottles to indicate that the cider has 100% juice content and has not been made from concentrate. “These are wines – they just come from apples, not grapes” say the organisers.

The Cider is Wine trend has found its way to Ceres Valley in South Africa where a new cider made from 100% freshly pressed and naturally fermented apples is making waves. Known as Loxtonia, the new cider has already created a name for itself, becoming a gold medalist at the Cape Town Festival of Beer Awards and striking gold for its looks at the World Cider Awards for Best Label Design.

Rosé cider and ice cider get recognition

As rosé wine and champagne continue to shine, rosé cider has fully taken the booze scene by storm, thanks to a bunch of cideries being bold enough to expand the pink-hued wine trend that has touched a variety of categories across the alcohol space from gin to tequila and even vodka.

This type of cider is made with red fleshed apples that give it a bright taste and color. Angry Orchard, MillerCoors, Strongbow and Bold Rock are just a few of the brands that have jumped onto the trend to the delight of cider drinkers. Angry Orchard’s Rose cider is inspired by the light and fruity elements of a rose wine and made from six different apple varieties, including a red flesh apple that helps give the beverage its flavor and distinctive color, as well as a hint of hibiscus. Similarly, MillerCoors, Bold Rock and Strongbow’s rose ciders have an apple base, but also include ingredients like pears and rose petals. “Rose is up on the bell curve, it’s a prevalent trend, but it’s not reached its apex,” says Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group.

Rosé cider may be taking the market by storm, but the Ice Cider is dominating the niche cider market. First discovered in Canada by Christian Barthomeuf, a winemaker from Dunham, its production is fast spreading across geographies as consumers look for the next unique cider product.

Unlike in normal cider preparation, the pressed apple juice for ice cider is left in the natural cold for several months to force watery ice crystals to form. The remaining thick apple syrup is then slowly fermented. The end process is a golden to amber-hued ice cider with rich apple notes and pleasant, sweet-to-tart flavor profiles. After many years of being confined to Canada, the drink has been spreading across geographies. In December 2014, Quebec ice cider obtained a protected appellation (IGP), which establishes international rules and requirements on production. This makes it possible for other regions across the globe to produce the niche product to the required specifications.

Sustainability influences processing

Compared to other alcoholic beverages, cider has a sustainability advantage because it is fermented without heat, more like wine. That means cider can be made using less energy. Cideries also don’t mind ugly apples like supermarkets do, they therefore play a huge role in limiting the amount of fruit that could have gone to waste. Orchards farmed exclusively for cider also don’t use pesticides which could have runoff into lakes and streams

A low carbon footprint is however not enough these days, industries are working towards net zero carbon emissions, so room has always been there for even further improvement. Today companies have been able to lower their carbon footprints further by shifting to renewable energy. Production efficiency has also come into play, helping many cideries cut down on water usage. Cideries have also realized that the more apples are locally sourced, the more sustainable they are. 

This has influenced many to set up near orchards to prevent emissions which could have been associated with transportation. South Africa’s Whitfield family, which started making premium cider from their own orchards at Loxtonia farm in 2013 are a shining example of cideries using apples within their vicinity.

To offset emissions that they cannot economically get rid of, some cideries have also resorted to plant orchards to absorb CO2. Orchids are rich carbon deposits, locking the gas in unharvested fruit and leaves, soils unploughed and undisturbed for generations protecting it from erosion and allowing soils to become richer and deeper. The plantations also provide a lush bio-diverse habitat especially for birds, mammals and insects, nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Leading UK cidery Aston Manor planted another 1000 acres last year to help offset the emissions it releases to the atmosphere. 

Stepping an inch away from processing, packaging is another major source of carbon emissions for cideries, and the drink cannot be described as sustainable if its container was not. Most ciders come packaged in glass bottles, which is easily recyclable compared to plastic. However, glass is heavier to transport and requires greater care during handling as they can break. This has led to a shift to aluminium packaging, which can be recycled indefinitely and is much lighter to transport.

The ability for glass to be reused however makes it an attractive packaging especially for on-trade retail channel. Most brands, including Kenyan Originals, therefore choose to have their products in both formats to take advantage of the benefits offered by both packaging materials. 

A healthier option for alcohol lovers

Cider has tremendously grown particularly in Africa and North America. The drink which was previously confined to Europe has broken borders and can be found amongst millennials having fun in a fast-paced club in Nairobi, Kenya or Durban, South Africa. To keep this upward trajectory, cidermakers have been innovating around flavours, fermentation processes, and base fruits among many others. The future of the drink continues to be bright, because unlike other alcoholic drinks, cider is gluten free and nutrient-rich, containing pectin, B vitamins, biotin, folic acid, vitamin C and a healthy dose of antioxidants. This positions it well in a world where consumers are ditching high alcohol and unhealthy drinks for healthier alternatives.

This feature appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE

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