Major cider makers C&C Group and Heineken are targeting wholesalers with competitive deals on their brands ahead of the launch of AB InBev's Stella Cidre, The Grocer has learnt.

AB InBev is launching Stella Cidre into the multiples in mid-April but wholesalers have been told it will not be rolled out to independents until as late as July.

Wholesalers said C&C and Heineken had made a concerted effort to inform them of plans to stop consumers from switching to Stella by offering price promotions on their ciders.

One major wholesale director said he expected the deals would be "really good".

"AB InBev has the opportunity to undercut the market so Magners sees it as a partially defensive move to drive sales while there's a limited launch of what could be a big brand," he said. "They're going to try to undermine it."

Landmark Wholesale senior trading controller Jim Brown said the buying group was contacted by Heineken shortly after the launch was announced and "informed of upweighted activity at the time of the Stella launch".

Wholesalers are angry they have been excluded from the launch of Stella Cidre.

"Yet again the multiples are being given an advantage over the independent trade," said Landmark trading controller John Fergusson-Cooper. "We're trying to combat it but we're seeing manufacturers chasing volume more and more and not allowing the independent market to compete."

Another wholesaler said he would not be "particularly welcoming" to Stella Cidre when it was made available to the independent sector. "We want a fair playing field," he added. "This limited launch risks alienating a huge tranche of their customer base."

Stella Cidre's launch coincides with Landmark's cider festival, which will feature deep-cut promotions from major suppliers, and a higher number of products from smaller producers, in depots from 4 to 23 April.

Many packs will be price-marked, including 4 x 500ml Magners original and pear for £4.99. The cans are currently sold by the mults for £5.48 []. Landmark predicts 60%-70% sales uplifts from depots during the festival.

Magners denied it had altered activity in response to the launch. "All our plans have been agreed in advance and are in line with our usual support levels for these key periods," said MD Gordon Johncox.

A Heineken spokesman said: "Easter is an incredibly strong period for cider and we're responding to the season's opportunities. What we're offering is in line with previous years."

AB InBev said it could not comment on where the product will be stocked for commercial reasons.

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