Every year around this time, we review the trends, changes, growth and challenges our industry faced in the prior twelve months. It’s a time to learn and respond. As your association, we do this to understand how U.S. companies are faring and to identify ways we can support the cider industry and its diverse members in the year ahead. No doubt, 2019 was challenging, but there is plenty of reason for optimism as we enter 2020.

YEAR IN REVIEW Despite strong head winds from growth in adjacent categories, the cider industry held ground in 2019.

2017 was the year we saw explosive growth for regional cider brands. 2018 was defined by the rosé trend. 2019 was a year of resilience. If you look at how fast the flavored malt beverage sector grew this past year, it’s quite impressive that cider performed as it did.

Over a two-year view from Q3 2017 to Q3 2019, off premise cider sales grew 6%. The rosé success of 2018 was an anomaly, and the come down from the trend is minor noise in the big picture. The cider category marches upward–sustainably. Many in the media may try to focus on pockets of decline in the market, but the fact is the wins outnumber the losses.  Regional brands continue to see double-digit growth for off-premise sales across all flavor categories except pear. Stories of growth, success and rebounds are also found within national brands.

THE FUTURE 2020 is forecast to continue the beverage trends of 2019. Threats to our market share right now are fueled by a consumer desire for a drink that is refreshing, healthful, and light. Those three characters describe cider to a T. Somewhere cider lost that as part of our messaging, so this is an opportunity to remind people that cider is just that, and even better, it’s made from apples.

To help kickstart this messaging in the new year, we are highlighting 0g residual sugar ciders in our outward social media messaging for the month of January. We’re calling it Dry Cider January and we will be promoting the hashtag #pickdrycider. Our goal is to gain the attention of health-oriented consumers. Do you make a 0g residual sugar cider? Please tell us so we can include it on our list.

We’re developing additional campaigns to promote the diversity of cider and its relevance throughout the year. Cider is not a seasonal beverage, and there are many styles to enjoy.

THE DETAILS We’re proud to offer complimentary detailed quarterly market reports to our active members in partnership with Nielsen. The flavor, format and subsector comparisons are helpful for conversations with wholesalers and buyers. But the value of these reports shouldn’t overshadow the half of the equation unilluminated by them. Direct to consumer sales and indie retailers are not found in these reports, leaving many brands and success stories out of the Nielsen data. Our annual membership survey will be deployed in January. Please take a dozen or so minutes to complete it when you see our request. Cider data is hard to come by, and we are taking serious efforts to continue growing what data and information is available about the industry. Our membership survey is an important part of that.

So, what are the details for cider’s growth in 2019? We don’t have Q4 data yet, but here is what we do know for off-premise sales measured by Nielsen for 52-week period ending on 11/30/19. Total cider sales declined -3.9% in the channels measured by Nielsen, led by declines in some of the leading national brands. But also:

  • Regional brand off-premise sales grew 15%
  • Regional brand off-premise market share of the cider category grew from 29.4% for 2018 to 34% as of 11/30/19. (Dollar share)

What else do we know? This year we saw cidery acquisitions after not seeing any for some time. We also know that online sales through the vendor VinoShipper increased 9% in 2019. These changes represent different sides of the cider spectrum and demonstrate how intricate the cider ecosystem truly is.

Share your growth story with us. We want to know how you measured success in 2019. There will be many opportunities to reflect on 2019’s trends in our Marketing & Trends track at CiderCon® 2020. Meet us there!

RELEVANT Today, gluten-free is a common lifestyle, and cider continues to benefit from it. But cider is not just gluten-free. It’s light, crisp, refreshing, often low in or sugar free, and versatile. Low-ABV is a growing trend, and cider serves to benefit from this trend both with low-ABV ciders and with low-ABV cider cocktails. Both beer drinkers and wine drinkers are looking for lighter in flavor, lighter in body choices and our diverse category is greeting these drinkers with welcome arms.

I was at a party last week where there was no alcohol. It was a very 2019 moment, as we know more and more people are drinking less. But much to my glee, we spent about half the party discussing cider—how much people loved it, where to drink it, and exploring styles. Most people explained to me that they discovered cider due to health choices. I regretted not bringing cider to that party!

My point is that cider meets the criteria of today’s health-oriented consumer. This fact should be in all of our talking points next year, no matter what style of cider we make.

ROAD AHEAD Cider maintained its gains in a year of challenges. With the projections that we’re seeing for flavored malt beverages in 2020, it will be harder to do so next year. In light of these pressures, increasing direct-to-consumer sales is good for category and company health. If you don’t already vend online, make that your New Year’s resolution and attend ‘Clicks & Cliques: Tactics for direct-to-consumer channels’ at CiderCon®.

It may be tempting to feel competitive with our peers in the industry right now. If we stick together, celebrate our differences and diversity, and work united to share a message of category versality, healthfulness and cider pairing beautifully with food, we will surprise ourselves and our doubters. Good things come from working together.

The board and I look forward to working with our members in 2020. Let’s do this thing called cider!

Modified image Liz West by courtesy of CC license.

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