When Kirsten and Christopher Shockey moved onto their southern Oregon farmland 22 years ago, they envisioned starting a cidery. The century-old apple trees on the property produced perfect cider apples with an optimal mix of tannins and sugar. Cider ignited their love of fermentation.
“Really our fermentation journey started here on this place,” says Kirsten, author and fermentation educator (as well as a TFA Advisory Board member). She and her husband spoke at a recent TFA webinar Cider 2020: The State of the Art of Cidermaking, and talked about the state of the industry today.
This year has been full of surprises for cider producers. Sales had begun to flatten in 2019, as drinks like hard seltzer pulled from their market share. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic took root this spring, consumers started buying large amounts of cider, hoarding it along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Regional brands in particular have netted strong growth, some seeing gains of up to 30%. But this short-term growth spurt has created an odd, contradictory situation in the industry.
“We’ve got this real interesting dichotomy,” Christopher says. “Cider sales are up over 12%, but when you talk to orchards, farmers, cideries, especially small ones, you get a different picture. A lot of our friends in the cideries are cutting back their production, they’re not buying as many apples. Cideries are cutting back their apple orders.” The Shockeys theorize that these recent sales have been filled from existing inventories, while producers remain cautious about sales projections for 2021 and beyond.
What does this all mean for you as a cider producer, as well as for the future of the industry? The Shockeys shared their recommendations, observations and predictions.
- Pick a niche. What is your cider brand’s defining characteristic? Is it your background story? Where do you source your apples? Differentiate, Christopher advises.
- Focus on target demographic. Different age groups purchase alcohol differently. Millenials and Gen Z, for example, avoid wine. How can your cider cater to your target age group?
- Respond to consumer movement. People are leaving the city for the country, as more and more work remotely and are no longer tethered to an urban office location. This migration will affect distribution and sales patterns as consumers relocate around the country.
- Find unique marketing opportunities. Though many tap rooms are currently closed, cider clubs are finding success providing the latest flavors to customers 4-6 times a year. These are guaranteed sales, and help cideries sell out of kegs rather than bottles.
- Embrace unusual flavors. The Shockeys detailed the differences between traditional cider (apples only) and modern cider (using other fruits and botanicals). Christopher’s favorite is a persimmon cider, while Kirsten loves one made with manzanita yeast that produces a Christmas spice flavor. In 2020, pineapple-flavored ciders have sold particularly well.
- Understand there will be less business spending. Restaurants, hotels and conferences will not be reliable sources of income for cider makers until the coronavirus pandemic is over. Even then, it may take a while for these outlets to recover.
- Explore home delivery. Regional brands implementing home delivery are seeing big sales.
- Fight for fridge space. People are not getting bigger refrigerators and they’re not drinking on-premise during the pandemic, so cider makers must figure out how to compete for their share of consumer purchases.
Attending Cider 2020 was a range of individuals, from master cidermarkers to DIY home brewers. The Shockeys shared tips for hobbyists as well as professionals. They also offered further advice through a chapter that didn’t make it into their recently-published The Big Book of Cidermaking but is available here: www.storey.com/cider-business.
For anyone interested in purchasing The Big Book of Cidermaking, or in any of the Shockeys’ four titles on fermentation – a fifth, on vinegar, will be released next year – please visit the Shockey’s Amazon store.