Crikey, it’s been a busy few weeks at Cider Towers; or rather, a busy few weeks on the road. But for once it hasn’t been me preaching the (cider) gospel. Since I last pontificated here I’ve been dashing all over the place listening to other people talk about cider. I know! Other people talk about cider, too! What a refreshing change (for me and for other cider folk, I’m sure) to not have me harping on for once. (FYI, I had terrible FOMO).
First up was the Global Cider Forum in Frankfurt, Germany. The headlines were big and bold: cider volumes have increased by 4.8% around the world in the last 5 years. And without India and China’s proclivity for Whisk(e)y, cider would be world’s fastest growing drinks category. Impressive stuff.
This global boom was reflected in the range of nationalities present. We actually had a full representation of the permanent members of the United Nation’s Security Council: China, Russia, USA, UK and France. I like to think that if the UN were to form a Cider Council, it would be a highly effective vehicle for ensuring peace and prosperity around the globe. Bagsy me for UK Ambassador! (Gabe’s Guide to Englishism #32: bagsy – to verbally claim ownership of something).
Also over the same period, flavoured ciders rose in volume by 25% and the largest growth was seen in Eastern Europe, with the Czech Republic topping the league of fastest growers. How ironic that the standard bearer of lager should now be a hotbed of fervent cider activity.
In direct contrast to this global prosperity, the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) proclaimed this week that the UK cider industry was in need of some help owing to a 25% volume decline over the last 8 years. It should be pointed out that this doesn’t include flavoured cider volume increases, which over the same period equate to roughly the same volume lost to non-flavoured ciders. Non-flavoured cider (or as I like to call it – cider) is now the only drinks category in the UK in decline. The NACM is seeking help to turn the tide by calling upon the support and assistance of Cider Heroes. Naturally, I signed up to the cause, if only so I can legitimately put my pants on the outside of my trousers, wear a gawdy coloured cape, call myself a silly name (like, I dunno, The Ciderologist?) and save the planet, one cider at a time.
But all of these volume numbers don’t tell the whole story. Stats can be used and manipulated in any way, shape or form depending on the purpose. One of my favourite quotes comes from Andrew Lang, a Scottish poet, novelist and literary critic. He said, “Politicians use statistics in the same way that a drunk uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination.” Lang died in 1912, but ne’er a truer word has been said about the use of stats today, whether it be in politics, business or cider.
Although global cider volumes are on the up, much of this volume can be attributed to products and brands that, in my opinion, don’t represent the best of cider. Cider can be the finest of drinks. But rather than being a true expression of terroir, progressively boundary-pushing or simply an awesomely tasty drink, many of these ciders are commodities – boring, bland and maaaasively sweet. This is a market based on high volumes, not High Value Perception (HVP – I’m loving my acronyms today!).
The big numbers don’t tell the full story in the UK, either, with the vast majority of cider makers actually experiencing volume growth over the last decade. Their common denominator – making ciders that people are willing to spend a little bit more on. Folk in the UK are (very) slowly starting to understand that satisfaction and downright enjoyment from cider can come from drinking a little bit less of something that is a whole heap more flavoursome. It’s all about the HVP.
I found the perfect exemplification of HVP two weeks back when, on my back to Bristol (where I now reside – it’s gert lush), I swung by Sheppy’s to finally have a gander at the results of their year-long development plan on site. All I can say (and pardon the profanity) is holy shitballs!! They’ve taken things to Chuck Norris levels with their ‘House of Cider’.
From the moment you hang a right off the A38, you’re being treated to the full cider experience. A new road runs right through the middle of an old standard orchard, replete with c.70 year old trees, dripping with fruit. It’s just like the old cider farms in Normandy that I recently visited. And then you actually reach the ‘House of Cider’ itself. What was once the old shop and old packaging area have been transformed into a fully blown gastronomic extravaganza with deli counter, rare-breeds butcher and hundreds of other local, artisan foodstuffs. The interior, including the impressive Apple Bay Restaurant, have been fitted and adorned with bold, tactile, quality materials. No corners have been cut here. And cider is at the heart of it – now, this is what I’m talking about!
I know HVP is a ridiculous term, and sounds a bit too much like a type of bilge pump, but at least it’s presenting cider in a positive light, and not just as another load of…well…bilge. If we can start talking about value, rather than just purely volume, when discussing cider then we’re going to be on the right track. The long march continues.