Cider decider: Summertime showdown for big brands
Marketing & Media
With summer fast approaching, the Irish drinks industry will be praying for some good weather this year in the hope that consumers might splash the cash a bit more as it looks to boost sales in a market which has been close to flatlining over the past few years.
This summer, however, all eyes will be focused on an interesting sideshow that will be played out in Ireland's small, but growing, cider market as some of the big industry brands battle it out for the hearts, minds and taste buds of thirsty Irish consumers.
In the right-hand corner, is C&C, the manufacturer and distributor of the popular and long-established Bulmers Irish Cider, the biggest selling cider in the marketplace. In the left-hand corner, is Heineken Ireland which, earlier this week, parked yet another tank on C&C's lawn following the launch of Appleman's, its new premium cider that has Bulmers, and its offspring, Outcider, firmly within its sights.
Heineken's tilt at the Irish cider market began in 2015 when it launched Orchard Thieves. At the time, the almost comatose cider market in Ireland was dominated by Bulmers, which enjoyed a near vice-like grip on the market for many years.
With the arrival of Orchard Thieves, however, a much-needed and long overdue vigour was injected into the market and cider, as a category, actually grew. Three years on, Orchard Thieves has stolen an 11.7pc share of the market while smaller artisan ciders have also piled into the market. Walk into any off licence in the country now and you are now likely to find six or seven six different ciders to choose from. As we know, competition not only gives consumers better choices but it can also stimulate markets.
Against a background of single-digit growth and fierce competition from rivals - including craft brewers - many of the large multinational drinks companies have been digging deep, innovating and exploring the possibility of creating new categories or taking existing under-performing ones and singling them out for some extra loving. It's a tactic that's right out of the best marketing textbooks and has been deployed many times by other brands across most sectors.
Not content with its 11.7pc of the cider market, however, Heineken is not resting on its laurels. With the launch of Appleman's it has thrown down the gauntlet to C&C and indeed every other player in the cider market.
"The category has the opportunity to perform better. When we look at other markets around Europe, we know that, as consumers become more familiar with cider tastes, and have access to more choice, cider can represent a larger chunk of the total market. This indicates an opportunity - not just for us, but all other innovators in the market," says Emma-Jane McKeown, senior brand manager with Heineken Ireland.
Heineken is the biggest cider manufacturer in the world and its global expansion over the past two of years has been spearheaded by Irish woman Sharon Walsh. Cider brands within the Heineken stable include Strongbow, Blind Pig, Stassen, Old Mout, Orchard Thieves, Appleman's and, wait for it, the Bulmers brand in the UK which it acquired following the 2008 acquisition of brewer Scottish & Newcastle.
In Ireland, cider has successfully managed to shake off the slightly tainted and unjustified image it had 20 years ago. Now, thanks to slick marketing and clever category repositioning over the past few years, it is consumed by people of all ages and classes and during most social drinking occasions.
"Cider represents just over 12pc of the overall long alcohol drinks (LAD) market and has a 7.8pc value share of the total alcohol market," says McKeown.
According to Kantar Media's TGI study for 2017, around 26pc, or 928,000, Irish adults drink cider with as many as 40pc of these claiming to have quaffed one or more pints within the last week. Not surprisingly 70pc of cider drinkers opt for the apple-based variety cider while 13pc prefer the pear-based alternative, according to Kantar. The remaining 17pc prefer the other fruit-based ciders that are widely available in most off-licences around the country.
The Kantar figures also tell us that cider drinkers tend to skew towards a younger cohort with as much as 63pc of them more likely to be aged 18-24.
But those uber-hip and trendy young ones that you see sipping cider on a sun-kissed rooftop in an Orchard Thieves TV ad are also a promiscuous lot according to the Kantar figures. In fact they are also more likely to drink a range of other alcoholic drinks, according to Kantar with as much as 59pc of them, for example, drink lager, 32pc drink ale and stout while 63pc drink wine, according to Kantar.
And therein lies one of the biggest challenges facing most brands in 2018: brand loyalty can be hard to win and sustain.
But as the important summer months for cider sales unfold, one thing is certain - a battle royal not seen in the drinks industry for years is on the cards. May the battle commence.
Sunday Indo Business