By Erin Flick
From the tannic to the perfumed, there are plenty of options to suit the adventurous or discerning cider drinker. And Australia’s cider boom is well underway.
According to an IbisWorld report, it is estimated that growth in cider market share over the past five years has increased on average by 19 per cent. A gradual shift towards on-premise consumption in mainstream hotels and niche establishments has seen cider introduced to new consumers who would have previously chosen beer or wine.
“We have noticed real trends moving away from traditional forms of alcohol, with the upside being that cider, craft beers and alcoholic ginger beer are seeing a large following,” says a spokesperson from the Dan Murphy liquor supermarket chain.
With over 150 varieties of cider available for sale on the Australian market, bottle shops are trying to cash in on the interest by dedicating entire sections to cider in order to meet growing demand.
While multi-national producers like Fosters and Tooheys, with brands like Foster’s Strongbow and Toohey’s 5 Seeds, remain the top sellers and have larger marketing budgets, there is consumer interest in boutique micro brewers; consumers are increasingly concerned about provenance and the history of the product.
But with any emerging industry comes challenges. Currently, manufacturers are focused on protecting the quality and reputation of traditional cider.
Jeff Aston, winemaker at Eling Forest Winery and Cider Making Services at Sutton Forest, NSW, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, says the big budget marketing campaigns of some local and international brands seem to be taking the focus away from premium styles and towards a drink to replace ready-to-drink beverages, such as pre-mixed drinks including alcopops.
Now there’s cider and there’s cider. Steve Dorman, owner and cider maker at The Hills Cider Company in Adelaide, points out that within the cider category, there are three methods of production: cider made from imported juice concentrate, often from China; ready-to-drink style ciders made from flavours; and cider made traditionally, using 100 per cent fresh fruit.
“What I love about making traditional cider is that I get to do a vintage every month, and I have a large range of fruit to experiment and play around with,” he says.
The differences between traditional cider and ready-to-drink (RTD) varieties are explained by Charlie Ostaszewski, co-founder of The Apple Thief Cider.
“Our cider requires craft, time, effort and apples, while RTDs require water, flavourings, ethanol and a quick turnaround to keep cash flow positive,” he says.
At present the Australian cider industry operates without an industry code of practice and this is of great concern to boutique producers. “Some producers could use imported concentrate and add sugar and water and flavouring to produce a drink that uses the approach of a soft drink, but labels itself as a cider,” says James Kendell, President of Cider Australia and owner of Small Acres Cyder.
Cider Australia, an industry body representing Australian cider makers, promotes the production of traditional styles of cider and aims to educate consumers about cider and perry (pear cider) in Australia.
A recent proposal by the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA) to tax cider at the same rate as pre-mixed RTD beverages would see the tax rate on a glass of cider quadruple.
“Any adverse move in tax, particularly in line with what DSICA proposes, would see many small producers like us simply shut up shop,” says Rich Coombes, co-founder of Batlow Premium Cider.
In 2011, a decision to extend an apple brand into the cider market resulted in a joint venture between the NSW Batlow apple growers co-operative and cider makers Rich and Sam Coombes with the launch of the Batlow Premium Cider brand.
After learning their craft in the United Kingdom, the Coombes brothers aim to follow the lead of Coopers in beer brewing and establish a high quality product capable of mass distribution.
Sam Reid, from Australia’s first Organic Cidery in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, says the growth in cider has benefited the Australian agricultural industry but warns manufacturers that “longer term we need to work on label integrity so people know what they are drinking”.
He says, ”We need to be labelling ciders made from concentrate and ciders made from imported products versus to distinguish them from locally grown or produced products.”
According to Charlie Ostaszewski, “There are too many ‘ciders’ on the market that use concentrates and have no direct relation to the fruit on the trees. I think as soon as people taste natural, there’s no going back.”
The United Kingdom is the top producer of cider and enjoys the largest per capita consumption of anywhere in world; it is also home to the world’s largest cider producing companies.
Established in 1880, Westons is one of the UK’s most recognised brands and now exports to over 40 countries, including Australia.
Roger Jackson, Westons’ Commercial Director, says the company’s sales in Australia have increased every year since they it began trading here in 2005. Australia is now Westons’ third largest country export customer.
“Much needs to be done when it comes to educating Australian consumers, particularly with regard to the differences in quality, style, provenance and authenticity,” Mr Jackson says.
While Mr Jackson applauds the increased space being given to cider on the Australian market, he suggests a reluctance on the part of some in the industry to be informed and guided by those who have a wealth of experience in the sector.
One thing is certain – Australians will be spoilt for choice as growth continues. “Cider connects with so many facets of Australian life, from growing the apples on farmland to processing on a bottling line and finally enjoying the product socially. It really captures the essence of this country,” Rich Coombes says.