• Transform magazine
  • March 31, 2020

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Cider brands should focus on premiumisation and provenance, report shows

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In Britain, pubs and restaurants have been urged to close, with similar measures coming into place the world over. This will undoubtedly impact year-on-year on-trade alcohol sales. But, with a roaring supermarket trade, cider producers still have the opportunity to maintain their brands throughout the current crisis.

Craft brand Westons Cider has unveiled its annual ‘Westons Cider Report 2020,’ which looks at the global cider trade and the trends that might define it over the coming months. Brands that have focused on product, provenance and premiumisation are seeing a pay-off in terms of sales, awareness and growth.

One of the key findings in the time of social distancing is that consumption of cider on-trade is only 38% compared to 62% consumption off-trade, making the category as a whole resilient to Covid-19 measures. The strength of a brand’s awareness and its commitment to quality have proven to be valuable in recent years and will continue to be important in the midst of the current crisis.

“We are confident that customers will return in their masses to support their local pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants once the current crisis has subsided. And that is exactly why we are currently increasing production of our popular portfolio of premium and crafted ciders – including Stowford Press, Old Rosie, Rosie’s Pig and Mortimer’s Orchard – so that we will be ready to fulfil demand with a full range of products when the trade needs it most,” says Darryl Hinksman, head of business development at Westons Cider.

Things are changing in the off-trade setting too, with consumers turning away from volume and value products toward premium, branded cider. More about this can be found in the breakout box at the bottom of the page.

The trend toward premiumisation – something Westons has been tracking in its past few reports – is expected to continue, with drinkers expecting craft, quality and heritage from cider brands. Low and no alcohol cider, however, is a new trend that the report predicts will continue to grow, based on other alcohol categories.

Less promising with regards to the impact of Covid-19 measures is that cider is traditionally reliant on sporting events, bank holidays and good weather to sell well on- and off-trade. How social distancing will affect brands in the category is to be seen.

But Hinksman is optimistic based on cider’s recent renaissance and its diverse audience. He says, “Despite being launched during these challenging times, our report once again shows that there is an extremely bright future for cider in the vital UK on-trade and that it will have a key role to play in helping the on-trade to drive sales during 2020 and beyond. Every year, our Cider Report helps to build up an increasingly complex and fascinating picture of the modern cider category, which has again shown itself to be dynamic and in high demand among an increasingly diverse audience.”

Of the top 10 bestselling cider brands, the only three showing growth are Thatchers, Westons and Brothers – all of which have focused on provenance, quality and brand value. Thatcher’s Gold and Henry Westons Vintage are the two individual products demonstrating year-on-year growth, again representing the need for brands to focus on the trend toward premiumisation, provenance and product quality.

How craft beer changed the rules of branding and packaging

I love beer. And in the time since I reached LDA (industry jargon for legal drinking age), I’d say lager has, in beer terms, enjoyed a 90% share of (my) throat. That’s a less attractive piece of industry jargon.

For almost as long as I’ve loved beer I have also loved (and then worked in) branding, so it came as a bit of a shock when craft beer started playing by very different rules. So why are consumers, including me, happy to pay (quite a lot) more for an abstract, psychedelic artwork on a can than a beautifully designed traditional bottle, with richly embossed glass and a label oozing with luxury print effects?

I totally get disruption, and I viscerally experienced it when I first read the label of Brew Dog’s Punk IPA nearly a decade ago: “This is not a lowest common denominator beer. This is an assertive beer. We don’t care if you don’t like it….” Splutter!! WTF??!

Nowadays Punk gets about 30% of my (reduced) beer consumption, but it shares fridge time with a few other choice pale ales and IPAs, including Beavertown’s Gamma Ray (with a design featuring gun-toting skeletons) and Mikkeller’s Hair in the Mailbox (er, that’s a Danish proverb, obvs.) Lager barely gets a look in.

Whilst at first sight the design language of craft looks like anarchy unleashed, the antithesis of ‘brand management,’ on closer inspection many (though not all) craft brands are using sound branding principles. Just not as we’ve known them.

The key to branding is distinctiveness and consistency, but who’s to say that these qualities must be expressed in corporate logos, colours and symbols, all conceived to express ownership and authority?

In the anti-authoritarian world of craft beer, the rules are different: passionate entrepreneurs and creative artists become natural partners, reflecting the art of brewing innovative and tasteful beers in a more conceptual way. In a nutshell, and perhaps best understood by those of us who once saved up to buy vinyl records, they’re album art.
But craft beer design isn’t all about hairy mailboxes and death cults. There’s an equally valid graphic style that you might call ‘painstaking artistry,’ more often seen at the premium (and more alcoholic) end of the scale.

Here the bringing to fruition of a complex and luxurious beer is captured by an equivalent investment in calligraphy and fine illustration. More typically the domain of premium wines and spirits, these codes transfer easily to stronger beers, especially those that have spent some time in a spirit barrel.

Our client Hertog Jan is a rather well kept secret. Based in a tiny brewery in the southern Netherlands, its team of brewers have been crafting regional speciality beers there since well before the term ‘craft beer’ was invented.

Of all his speciality beers, head brewer Gerard van den Broek is most proud of Hertog Jan’s Quadrupel, ‘Grand Prestige.’ It’s marketed as a beer to be savoured, perhaps after a couple of years ageing in the bottle.

Witnessing the success of sister company Goose Island’s ‘Bourbon County’ barrel-aged stout, van den Broek invited himself to Chicago to learn the technique first hand; shortly afterwards we found ourselves creating the branding and packaging for the first series of Hertog Jan Grand Prestige Vatgerijpt.

That’s a bit of a mouthful, both as a beer and as a branding challenge, but the mark we created balances those three names, and as many symbols, without skipping a beat.

2019’s ‘Four Dutch Masters’ series has been aged in the barrels of three of The Netherlands’ finest Jenever distillers. This design, depicting the famously intricate recipes and processes of Jenever making, helped to sell out the entire 35,000 bottle production in 26 days. The 2020 series had been set to launch this very weekend, but an extra few months in the bottle will only improve it. Cheers!

Steve Osborne is the partner and managing director at Osborne Pike