Eight out of the top 10 brands are growing ahead of a market of which they hold 50% volume share C ider has been struggling to find its feet after a period of under investment and price cutting. Latest figures shows it growing at 1% (in the 12 months to the end of June), which is not impressive given most other long drinks sectors are growing faster. But the underlying trends are better ­ eight out of the top 10 brands are growing ahead of the market. And they account for more than 50% of the volume. The inevitable conclusion is that consumers are turning away from the commodities and own labels and going back to the reassurance of brands. The big losers look to be the cheap white ciders. Increased advertising on key brands such as Strongbow and Dry Blackthorn underlines this trend. The field is led by Bulmers' Strongbow which has been growing at 31% (year-on-year value). And Strongbow must continue to perform if it is to help fulfil Bulmers' ambitions. The company wants to double the size of the brand in five years , and at the same time quadruple its total business so the company has a turnover of £1bn. This grand plan includes expansion of its international business and beer operations, and the generation of 15% of its profits from innovation. Bulmers' vision for Strongbow is in a context where it is measured against beers and lagers. In this long drinks top 10 it is No 7 behind Stella Artois, Carling, Foster's, Heineken, Budweiser and Tennent's lager. The ambition is to push it among the top five. Take home sales director John Jenkins says: "The way we work must change if we are going to achieve these goals. We are thinking differently and establishing partnerships to drive the growth of the category. We have put more focus on occasion-based issues and impulse purchases. "We think in the next three years there is a £600m category opportunity and our sales and marketing teams are focused on developing that." Part of this is a belief that more can be made of cider pre-Christmas. "The uplift on November and December cider sales is well behind other long alcoholic drinks categories and we aim to correct this anomaly." The key issues are lack of display and out of stocks. Strongbow will be back on TV, there will be tailor-mades and 50% extra free on Strongbow, Woodpecker and White Lightning two litre packs. Independents will benefit from display stand promotions and value marked multipacks. Convenience stores will be offered 12-packs of Strongbow cans for the price of eight. Matthew Clark is also planning to increase its promotional activity. This will include price promoting and similar extra free offers on Blackthorn. It is also boosting its production of pint cans across its range which includes Red C, Diamond White and Gaymer's Olde English. Marketing director Keith McIlwain says: "The move to deeper price discounts places greater pressure on the supply chain, though this has been offset by multiples promoting only a few brands at a time. "This has helped manufacturers and retailers to minimise out of stocks and it also presents an opportunity for independents as they can feature as many promoted brands as they like." Merrydown intends to get away from the image cider has of being a lager made from apples with its latest brand Classic. Marketing controller Mike Coppard says: "The challenge for the industry is to come up with new propositions which raise consumer interest." Classic is being backed by a press campaign in consumer magazines and sampling activity with Ann Summers targeting 32,000 women. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}