Cider follows craft beer trend

Cider may be the most exciting new segment in the beer category. A recent report from Mintel indicated that in the United Kingdom, the market penetration of cider is now equal to lager.

Industry experts predicted that sales of cider could become as strong across the pond in the United States. Technomic's recent BeerTAB Report called cider "a bright spot in the beer category." The report said that while cider is the smallest segment in the beer industry, it has "tapped into many of the same consumer trends driving craft beer and posted the largest gain," at 31.3% in 2012.

Americans continue to have a hearty appetite for craft beers, a trend that has been driving beer sales at the same time that sales of premium beer have been in a slump. Just as important, marketers see cider as a crossover beverage that has an ability to attract new users — particularly women — to the category who may prefer sweeter flavors than traditional beers offer. New flavors, such as pear cider, keep consumers coming back to the category to try new products.

Like the craft beer arena, small cideries are cropping up and giving the category a local, foodie image. Larger brewers have moved in. Woodchuck Cider, made by Vermont Hard Cider, was purchased late last year by the Irish hard cider company C&C Group, which is looking to grow the underdeveloped category in the United States.

Heineken, which took over distribution of Strongbow, wants to make Strongbow a global cider brand and will put its considerable marketing muscle behind the brand in the United States.

Last year, Anheuser-Busch InBev introduced its Michelob Ultra Light Cider. MillerCoors recently bought Crispin Cider, and Boston Beer launched a line of hard ciders called Angry Orchard. Boston Beer will soon move to national rollout of its regional Cider House Collection.

"As a category, hard cider is growing in popularity — up 64% in 2012 versus 2011, according to IRI. But it is still only about 0.4% of the beer market in the United States compared to England, where it's closer to 20%," said David Sipes, cider maker for Angry Orchards. Sipes hoped "drinkers will approach Angry Orchard the same way they explore craft beer — looking for innovation, quality and variety."