Poor sales results at Magners' owner C&C prompted newspapers this week to lament that the cider category was in trouble. C&C's cider volumes have fallen 6% in the UK over the nine months to November 2009.
However, new figures obtained by The Grocer reveal that the overall market is booming, with value up 16.5% and volumes up 12.9% on last year [Nielsen 52w/e 2 January 2010].
Magners is credited with spearheading the initial cider boom five years ago, but last year it was the only top five cider brand not in value growth [The Grocer Top Products Survey 2009, 19 December]. The brand therefore did not reflect what was going on in the wider category, said industry sources.
"Despite recent stories to the contrary, the cider market is in great health and has been one of the fastest- growing sectors in the beer, wine and spirits category for the last several years," said Peter Spencer, MD of Gaymer Cider Company.
"The market is storming," agreed Edward Garner, communications director at TNS Worldpanel.
Cider has plenty of room left for growth, according to Steve Roper, director of trading drinks and tobacco, at Booker. "We see no current indication that consumers are tiring of cider; indeed, if suppliers continue to innovate based on their customer and consumers' feedback, there is still significant growth to come," he said.
Own-label supplier Aston Manor said this was not a "boom and bust" scenario as it had just experienced record-breaking volume sales in 2009.
The category was still attracting new drinkers and adding sustainable value to the long alcoholic drinks market, according to Shaun Heyes, Heineken UK's head of customer marketing. However, growth was only coming from "well-supported brands", he added.
Despite the year-on-year decline, C&C's more recent cider sales showed an uplift, with Christmas volumes up 17% on last year in the UK. The company's recent acquisition of Gaymer Cider Company's portfolio meant it now had "all the tools it needed at its disposal", said a spokesperson for the company.
"I don't think the decline is steep, or a disaster," he said. "The new management team has already said there will be a change in approach over Magners' marketing in the coming year. They have brought in different products, extending the range. C&C is now a clear number two in the cider off-trade. We have a portfolio position and are developing a strategy."