The hard cider market continues to grow at a rate multiple times greater than all other alcoholic beverages. According to Nielsen, which tracks off-premise (retail, not restaurant) sales of alcoholic beverages, the hard cider market grew by 71% in 2014. By comparison, retail sales of spirits increased by 2.4%, sales of table wine increased by 3.3% while beers sales decreased by .4%.
This impressive 71% growth in hard cider comes after an 89% increase in sales in 2013 and a 90% jump in 2012. While growth appears to be slowing, it still is in the stratosphere. And where the ceiling resides for hard cider is not yet clear.
Nielsen’s tracking looks at off-premise sales in food stores, drug stores, convenience stores, mass merchandisers, selected wine and liquor markets and key liquor chain retailers. Where hard cider is concerned, these outlets’ sales are dominated by the large commercial producers like Angry Orchard, Johnny Appleseed, and Smith & Forge. Craft cider sales in these outlets are represented rarely and in miniscule amounts. As a result, there are no accurate figures for the growth of craft cider versus traditional cider. In fact, there is no standard definition of what a craft cider is. Some say it’s like pornography. We know it when we see it.
What is indisputable, however, is that in every alcohol beverage category from wine, to spirits to beer, the smaller, craft-oriented products are growing at a much faster clip than the categories’ overall averages. Craft beer, for example, grew at a rate of 17% in 2013 and was up 18% through the first half of 2014. By all indications, craft spirits are growing at a faster clip than craft beer. Meanwhile, sources tell me that the 2014 growth of direct to consumer wine shipments—always a barometer of the high-end side of the wine market—grew at a double-digit rate.
There is every reason to believe that 2014 sales of craft cider (whatever that is) grew at a rate far exceeding the 71% indicated by Nielsen for the overall retail hard cider market.
Unfortunately, there is no tracking of this artisan side of the hard cider market. Yet there should be and perhaps this is a job for the United States Association of Cider Makers. While many people know that sales of hard cider have taken off, they assume the tremendous growth applies only to the big, commercial brands that produce TV commercials but fewer people think much about the smaller, artisan oriented craft cider houses. Were they to discover what is likely astronomical growth in this category of smaller brands, they would be more likely to seek them out—whether they be consumers or trade.
What’s clear is this. We are living through the best time in the past 100 years for hard cider lovers. There are more artisan ciders available today than at any time in the past century. And their number is growing every day. And there is every indication that the growth of the craft cider category is just beginning.