In the past decade, more cideries have begun clubs as a way to connect with their customers, keep year-round sales and sell rare ciders.
But during 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed taprooms and cancelled restaurant sales, cider clubs became critical to earn revenue. The American Cider Association (ACA) reported 22% of their members started a club in 2020.
“Our cider club was the one bright spot of 2020. That was really the one thing that kept growing, kept us motivated and got us excited,” says Talia Haykin, founder of Colorado-based Haykin Family Cider. Her products were sold in local fine dining establishments, but those sales evaporated during the pandemic.
“Everyone has kegs they can’t sell during the pandemic,” says Christopher Shockey, who co-authored the book The Big Book of Cider with wife Kirsten (a TFA Advisory Board member). “Cider clubs are keeping them afloat.”
Guaranteeing Sales & Creating Fans
Cider clubs are a subscription service where the cidery ships new, rare, seasonal or limited edition ciders to members multiple times a year. As both online shopping and access to direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping have expanded, subscriptions to cider, wine and other alcohol assortments have become feasible and increasingly popular.
“It’s taking customers who are already excited about you and converting them into a model that’s going to have them buy more from you regularly” says Eleanor Leger, founder of Eden Speciality Ciders. Leger and Haykin shared their tips on cider club growth opportunities during 2021 CiderCon.
“That’s money you know you’re going to have versus just duking it out on the store shelves where a new store manager can just decide they don’t want you and they want somebody else and you lose that shelf space,” Christopher says during the TFA webinar on “The State of the Art of Cidermaking.”
An ACA survey found that cider clubs generate up to 10% of a cidery’s total revenue.
Quarterly shipment of ciders is standard. Haykin and Leger advise cideries to ship more than twice a year, so members won’t forget they joined a club.
“You want to continually remind them that you exist,” Haykin says.
Shipping costs for cider — a fermented product which must be kept cold and is often sold in glass bottles — can be pricey. But, Haykin notes, even though he bears that high cost of shipping : “the repeat business of a club member is worth so much more to us.” Many clubs offer local pick-up to eliminate shipping costs.
Attracting & Keeping Customers
In the crowded alcohol market, cider clubs are a way to differentiate a brand.
While there are not specific stats on the demographics of Americans who subscribe to alcohol clubs, product subscription services overall are rapidly growing. Millennials are the dominant users of subscriptions — 31% currently have one or more, and another 38% say they will in the next six months.
Cider sales grew 9% in 2020, and they represent 11% of the craft beer category (where cider sales are tracked). Wine is struggling with Millenial and Gen Z consumers, who view it as a drink for an older demographic. Kirsten Shockey says younger consumers gravitate to cider instead.
“People are looking for funky flavors,” she adds. “I think the biggest battle cider makers have is feeling like the wine cooler crowd is their crowd. But that is changing, people are looking for more flavor.”
Member offerings vary for cider clubs, and can include:
- Discount on tap room products.
- First chance to try new items.
- Exclusive taproom tastings.
- Forage days (members help pick cider apples from local orchards).
- Volunteer opportunities at local farmers markets and food festivals.
The No. 1 reason people cancel a membership is because of a bad experience. Haykin stresses the importance of responding to a customer within, at most, 12 hours. “Communication is one of the most important things you’ll offer as a club,” she says.
Leger adds: “We jump all over someone who has had a problem to make sure they know we are sorry and we take care of it right away. Handling a problem really well creates incredible loyalty. People can be out there building your brand for you because they love you and they’re telling all their friends. If they have a bad experience, they’re destroying the brand for you.”