Consumers attitudes to cider have been transformed over the past three years and the brand receiving most of the credit for driving this change has been Magners, which has grown to be the number two selling cider brand in the UK, even though it only went to nationwide distribution less than two years ago.
Although it has been similarly successful in Ireland since the early 1990s (where it is known as Bulmers, but no relation to S N’s UK version), Magners had a phased introduction into the UK starting in Glasgow in 2003 and only going nationwide in March 2006.
Heavy advertising, and the ‘over ice’ innovation, helped to make the product a runaway success, leading to shortages in some channels last year, but the company invested euro;200m to double capacity at its production plant in Tipperary over the winter and has been able to satisfy demand this year even though it has continued to grow strongly.
Nielsen’s MAT for GB total take home to September 8 this year showed Magners had the top three SKUs in premium bottled cider, with 568ml leading followed by 750ml and one litre. Looking back on 2007, Stephen Winter, national sales manager for the off trade, comments: “The roll-out of Magners 750ml nrb has begun with encouraging uptake from the trade, and sales of Magners cans have more than doubled in the year to date. We are also trialling our new 6x330ml pack in conjunction with a number of wholesalers’ retail clubs.”
Looking ahead, Winter expects growth in the cider category to continue as more consumers open up to the category as an alternative to lager and beer and he expects premium cider to continue to drive the growth.
However, he adds: “The growth in the wholesale and independent retail channel, while good, is still behind the total cider market growth so there is still a huge opportunity to drive volume and margin through the growing premium cider category. With cider overtaking ale in off trade value terms there is the opportunity to realign the amount of space given to cider to maximise this opportunity and with Easter coming early, Euro 2008, and hopefully some sunshine, there is an opportunity for the whole trade to push onwards positively.”
Marketing director Maurice Breen credits the wholesale channel with a major role in developing the brand in the UK. He says: “Wholesalers have been critical to servicing the trade. Right from the off we got critical wholesalers in Scotland on board and they helped drive sales.”
Although Magners growth has been mirrored by a fall in the ARTD market, Breen says this is just a coincidence because Magners appeals to a much wider group of consumers than ARTDs. He rejects any suggestion that it has become a trendy drink that could just as easily fall out of favour like ARTDs, and points to the experience in Ireland.
He says: “It is definitely not a fad. In Ireland, it has been outperforming beer for years, and is now the number three alcoholic drinks brand. Only Guinness and Heineken in the on trade, and Budweiser and Heineken in the off trade, sell more. We’ve also seen consistent growth since Magners was introduced in Northern Ireland eight years ago. We are looking for the same to happen in the UK. We’ve shaken up the whole category and repositioned cider to get rid of its baggage.”