AB InBev’s Stella Artois Cidre has the potential to unlock cider sales stateside and “explode” growth for UK cidermakers, according to Magners’ owner C&C.

The biggest obstacle to cider exporters was lack of category understanding in countries like the US, said C&C boss John Dunsmore. But AB InBev already had a 50% share of the US beer market that it could leverage to drive cider sales.

As the world’s biggest brewer, it also had the distribution network and marketing capability to educate consumers globally about cider, ­he added.

“AB InBev’s aspiration isn’t just focused on the UK,” he said. “The US cider market is 400,000hl a drop in the ocean. It would hardly do all this if it expected cider to stay that size. If it can establish its credentials in the UK, the biggest cider market in the world, and then enter markets around the world where it is very strong, that’s good for us.”

Half the world’s 20 million hl worth of cider sales are in the UK and Ireland. Heineken is the world’s biggest cider producer, with a 19.5% share of global sales, C&C is second with 12.7% and third is African company Distell (30% of which is owned by SAB Miller) with 12.1%.

The launch undoubtedly opened up a “wider landscape” for cider, said Simon Waring, MD of Green Seed Group, which helps British exporters. “It’s a question of education. People understand beer, but don’t necessarily understand cider.”

For the UK cider industry to crack the US it would not only need to educate American consumers, but also have a solid distribution network, added a National Association of Cider Makers spokesman. “The trick with the US is distribution. It’s a very complicated network, and if you’ve got no distribution strength it’s too big a market to make in-roads into. AB InBev, however, has all the infrastructure it might want.”

The launch, and the multimillion-pound marketing campaign behind it, would help drive long-term category growth, added Dunsmore. “This is the ultimate test of driving beer consumers into cider. Stella is an established beer brand, and we hope people will try Stella Cidre, like cider and then go for the real McCoy with Magners.” He echoed AB InBev president Stuart MacFarlane’s view that UK cider sales could double their rate of growth to 15% off the back of Stella Cidre’s launch.

AB InBev UK said it had no plans at present to supply its new cider outside the UK. However, it had “big plans” for Stella Artois Cidre and would be supporting it heavily.