Making cider the right way

Westons Cider’s first inroads into the American market have met with considerable success, while the introduction of a new fruit cider in the UK has allowed the company to address one of the leading trends in its domestic market

For the FoodChain team, it is always a pure delight to talk to a Westons Cider representative. Not only do we know that we are guaranteed to be provided with valuable insights on the state of the cider sector, but we also have the immense pleasure to zoom in once again on the well-ordered system of values that guides the company and has been at the heart of its continued success. Our recent interview with Darryl Hinksman, Head of Business Development at the Herefordshire cider maker, made no exception. Having previously featured Westons Cider in the magazine just over 18 months ago, Darryl wastes no time in bringing us up to speed with the latest developments at the organisation.

“From a product standpoint, the launch of the Stowford Press Mixed Berries cider last year was the undisputed highlight for the company,” he begins. “It was in the summer of 2018 that we first released it as a draught cider and then, in the autumn, we made it available in 440ml cans. Both variants are doing exceptionally well and we are really happy that we have increased the importance of fruit ciders within our portfolio, because there is a clear trend across the UK of growing consumption of this particular type of cider. As it stands at the moment, we are going to keep our sales and marketing teams focused on developing these products further, as there is still a long way for us to go to take them to the level we want them to be.”

Premium quality
Another recently-developed consumer behaviour trait picked up by Darryl, is the tendency to seek premium quality ciders. “If you look at the on-trade side of the industry specifically, you will notice that people are drinking less, but they are drinking cider of a better quality,” Darryl observes. “This is a very good trend for us and one we can definitely take advantage of, because we produce only premium ciders made from locally-grown fruit.”

US expansion
In the last year and a half, Westons Cider has also taken the key first steps to apply its highly-successful model outside of the UK. At the time of our previous conversation, the organisation was just about to make its first shipment to the US. Today, it has already established partnerships with three distributors covering different geographical areas, namely Florida, the West Coast, and the East Coast of the country.

Darryl shares his impressions of the early days of Westons Cider’s American adventure and the lessons the company has learned: “It has certainly been a very positive experience for us so far. We decided to target the market with our Caple Road craft cider, which can be found in 500ml cans. The product has grown considerably since its launch and we are planning to stick with it as we approach other states, because the American market seems to be enjoying it,” he explains.

“It is a very different environment to operate in, though, compared to the British market,” Darryl adds. “The most important lesson we have learned, is that you need to identify the right distributor to work with, who shares your vision of how you want to grow your brands. We are taking our time to make sure that we pick those people that we think have a synergy with the way we want to operate. Going forward, our plan is to discover more areas where we can gain traction, which makes selecting the right distributors even more critical.”

Asked about the qualities a good distributor needs to possess, he says: “First and foremost, these businesses need to have people within their teams who possess a sound category knowledge and who are willing to spend the necessary time to learn about our products. We understand that all these distributors have broad portfolios of many different products, but we want to see that they are giving cider the focus it needs to drive growth in the market.”

Impeccable reputation
The strive for in-depth knowledge and the attention to detail Westons Cider requires from its distributors reflect the company’s own philosophy. It is with good reason that the business has been around for 140 years and the commitment of each of its teams to making cider the right way is a good explanation for its impeccable reputation in the market.

In Darryl’s opinion, this mentality will continue to carry Westons Cider forward in the years to come, helping the company navigate the roadblocks that might be scattered on its way. “One of the biggest issues in both on and off-trade, is the market consolidation we are witnessing,” he discusses. “We can see major customers merging or being bought out, which means that the market is probably going to end up with fewer, bigger players in the near future.

“Another important element of the picture concerning on-trade, in particular, is that major brewers have their own pubs and, therefore, their own cider, which means that they own the whole route to market. In this situation, we need to have an even stronger proposition, offer very premium products that are different to what other people do, and, generally, stick to our guns about making cider in a traditional way.”

Dedicated traditions
At a time when the whole business world is holding its breath, monitoring closely how Brexit will pan out, Westons Cider is fairly relaxed about the implications of Britain leaving the EU. “We use only locally-grown fruit, so our production process is more or less Brexit-proof,” Darryl comments. “It is not to say that we are resistant to major changes in the economy, but we are not dependent on any imported concentrates, for example, so no price volatility or shortage of availability will have an impact on our operations.”

What the company needs to keep an eye on, however, is potential changes to legislation that could affect the alcohol industry. “This is something everyone in the industry has to be mindful of,” Darryl maintains. “To give you an example, we saw the implementation of a minimum unit pricing legislation in Scotland in 2018 and we need to be aware of the effect it might have, if it was to be introduced in Wales and then in England. In fact, it was due to be launched in Wales in the next 12 months or so, but it seems to have been postponed for now. Nevertheless, I think it is inevitable that it will come and once it is in Wales, England will probably follow shortly after.

“In any case, we have a duty to remain true to our 140-year heritage. The ongoing premiumisation of the industry presents Westons Cider with a great opportunity to showcase its uniqueness and we are looking to continuously demonstrate and promote the traditional way of making cider, which has defined us as a company for the last century and a half,” Darryl concludes.