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VOL. 059

Let's talk Hard Cider


Quick admin note here: We’re less than 2 weeks out from launching our 2024 Beer Branding Trends review. 

All 23,000+ words of it. 

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I wanted to give you a preview of a segment from this report on one of CODO’s favorite beverage segments.

The hard cider market has been interesting to watch.

It’s been quietly growing in the background for as long as the contemporary beer industry, and has actually outperformed beer sales as of late (driven in large part by imperial ciders).

Along the way, several cider outfits have built up impressive empires spanning multi-regional footprints and posting production figures that would put them amongst the top 50 breweries by volume.

And cider itself is an interesting category that mirrors a lot of the self-examining questions the craft beer industry wrestled with in the early 2010s as the category began its rocket ship growth path.

Namely, a (sometimes) heated conversation surrounding defining what hard cider even is.

(Above): Brewery > Cider — I bet we'll see more breweries release Hard Cider brands over the coming years.

Read more about Good George Brewing's cider program here

And the City Roots Cider (formerly Harpoon Craft Cider) is a good example of a brewery scaling the Sub Brand Ladder.


What is hard cider?

– Is it a cloying, apple-forward commodity CPG product with a surly tree adorning each bottle? 

– Or is it an artisan product, made from only the finest fresh-pressed juice and served locally in the Old World tradition? 

– Does independence and ownership matter? 

– Do you have to grow your own apples to be authentic?

– Does hard cider have to be apple-based, or can it follow in beer’s footsteps by continually stretching the bounds of what constitutes the category itself?

This latter point is more compelling when you look at broader Bev Alc trends of setting aside quaint notions like category conventions and TTB classifications to focus more on flavor (!) and ABV (!!) and attitude (!!!).

I could go on and on about this category (I love, love, love) hard cider, but I’ll stop now and outline a few big points we’re seeing in our project work in this space.

(Above): Imperial ciders, like imperial IPAs, are a major category growth driver.

Parallels between beer and hard cider

We’re seeing a lot of the same trend lines driving growth in cider that are at play in the beer industry, including:

– Flavors, novel and bold, are driving consumer trial. 

– Imperial Ciders are a big growth driver. 

– Adjuncts (especially non-Apple fruits) are expanding cider’s reach. 

– NA ciders could be a viable segment to explore (though, make sure you mind your Brand Architecture in these cases). 

– Better for you / functional ciders (with esoteric ingredients like Adaptogens & Nootropics) could see growth. 

– Light ciders (low cal and crushable) could see growth. 

(Above): Lagers are trending right now as beer consumers look for familiar, easy drinking options. 

Is there an opportunity for light ciders to see the same growth?


Cider’s halo effect

From a messaging standpoint, cider benefits from a perceived “naturalness.” 

This can’t be bad for you, it’s just apples.

Cider’s innate agricultural provenance and orchard connection lends a halo effect to the category as a whole. 

It’s not quite better for you, though there is an angle here to reach consumers who are looking for a healthy, honest drink.

The same can be said for cider’s gluten free claim. 

This value prop punches way above its weight. (i.e. in CPG packaging, if a consumer sees that something is gluten free, they assume it’s a healthier product overall.)

While not necessarily true (e.g. gluten free Oreo’s exist. lol.), this perception does exist. 

And this is a good thing for folks who are building hard cider brands. 

(Above): We're seeing a lot of the same Fourth Category exploration from cideries as we are from breweries.


Cider as a beverage platform: Opportunity and risks

We’re seeing the same push into Fourth Category beverages from cideries as we are across the rest of beer and Bev Alc (e.g. cider brands producing sodas, teas, functional beverages, pre and probiotic sodas, RTDs, seltzers, beer, wine and spirits). 

On one hand, I think it’s smart to view cider as a platform for innovation and exploration.

But on the other hand, you have to wonder: 

How far can you push hard cider [away from apples] before a consumer is just buying another (commodity) FMB or RTD cocktail?

I think experimenting with non-apple fruit is a natural, credible play for most cideries, but beyond that, you should think carefully about the positioning and Brand Architecture implications of launching non-cider and further afield products. 

The further away you get from apples as a base, the further you get away from what makes the segment special in the first place.


Wrapping up

We’ve helped breweries launch basically every type of beverage you can dream up at this point—seltzer, RTDs, coffees, kombucha, NA beer, Hop Water, teas, punches, spirits, and on and on. 

But we haven’t seen too many breweries release hard ciders. 


I think hard cider could be a great category for more breweries to explore as they look to diversify their portfolio and find incremental growth.

Conversely, for the cideries and cider industry itself, I think that if (or as) beer’s collective share continues to slide, this is all the more opportunity you need to continue ascending and stealing overall share. 

Either way, I bet we see more breweries get into cider over the coming years. 

And I’m here for it. 

Around the Shop

How to produce 100k+ bbl of cider with Schilling Hard Cider

We had a fun conversation with Eric Phillips, CCO of Schilling Cider a few years back. 

This interview touches on:

– Brand Values, and how Schilling invests in its team 
– The benefits of a multi-regional footprint 
– Fourth category options for the cider industry 
– Who's drinking hard cider
– Cider value props
– Expanding by "drafting" into new markets 
– Hard cider in the on-prem vs. off-prem

And much, much more. Such a great conversation.


Cody and I have been selected to host a seminar at CBC this year titled "Leverage your brand or start a new one? Brand Architecture strategies for growing your business."

Shoot me an email if you'll be at the conference and would like to grab a beer and talk shop and/or discuss working together.

Sneak Peeks (works in progress)

Ready to learn more?

The Beyond Beer Handbook

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Craft Beer, Rebranded

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.

Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

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