Allen Hogan’s Hogan’s Cider entered the U.S. market just over three years ago. With a goal of introducing Americans to Traditional English Cider, he began working with the Shelton Brothers Importers. Hogan Cider has been very well received in the states and took two coveted Gold Medals and the Highly Commended Award for its 2010 Vintage Perry at the prestigious 2014 Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition. Allen was kind enough to take time to respond to a few questions The Cider Journal had for him concerning selling English Cider in America, the state of the American cider market and the impact of large brewers entering the American cider market.
TCJ: You’ve been selling bottled cider in the U.S. now for more than three full years. And it appears you have achieved relatively good distribution here. At the same time, the U.S. has been experiencing strong growth in cider sales. From your perspective, how would you describe your experience with the American cider marketplace, its growth and whether or not your expectations here have been met?
Allen Hogan: I would say at this juncture we’ve achieved modest distribution across the US. It’s a vast market and prone to marked segmentation with regional differences and tastes,
from day one I had no real expectations because I had very little knowledge of the market. I was confident in terms of our product; that it is a good example of an authentic English cider but I had no way of telling how it might be received by the collective US palate. My only guide was Lauren Shepard (of Shelton Brothers, our importer http://www.sheltonbrothers.com) and her partner who both liked what we made.
I have two frustrations with the US market. The first is the artificial three tier structure, it just seems to add cost and complexity and no value, something I find ironic given the US is the natural home of efficient commerce and industry. I guess it has more to do with the nation’s historical relationship with alcohol. The second frustration is slowly being addressed, few in the retail sector know how to categorise cider. If ciders are not displayed on their own they might find themselves hidden amongst beers or alternatively wines. This must cause confusion in the trade and definitely amongst consumers. As mentioned it does seem to be fixing itself with more ciders finding their way to customers via a specialist in store cider section.
Our growth in sales has not kept pace with the market growth
TCJ: Americans have a reputation for liking their beverages on the sweet side. Have you taken this into account in any way in your approach to the U.S. market?
Allen Hogan: No, we’ve made no adjustment to our ciders or perry. We sell in the US exactly the same blend sold in the UK and other export markets we serve. That maybe why we are not growing at the market rate!
TCJ: The very large beer producers have all introduced ciders into the U.S. market. They tend to be less expensive and sweeter. They also have great distribution almost immediately. Will this help Hogan’s Cider and other craft cider producers? Or will it hurt Hogan’s sales and the sales of other craft cideries?
Allen Hogan: At first new ciders entering the market would appear to be threatening for existing producers. Experience in the UK market suggests otherwise. The whole category in the UK was shaken into life about ten years ago with the introduction of Magners backed by heavy promotion and advertising. Magners is a brand owned by the Irish company, C&C.You’ll be aware C&C acquired Woodchuck and Hornsby in the last few years.
Magners took the market by storm and every 20 year old had to be seen drinking Magners. Ten years later those same consumers have moved on, many are still drinking cider, not necessarily Magners, but their palates have matured and they have turned to more challenging and complex ciders which is where we benefit.
Large new entrants with muscle invariably expand and legitimise a sector or market and that’s our opportunity in the long run.
TCJ: Can you describe the growth rate of Hogan’s Cider in the U.S. in 2013?
Allen Hogan: Growth rate in the US has been modest, much slower than our overall business which has grown 50+% in the past year.
TCJ: What has been the biggest challenge to overcome in marketing and selling Hogan’s Cider in the U.S.
Allen Hogan: Achieving wide distribution and getting our message across of a cider fermented from just 100% fresh pressed English cider apples
TCJ: What are your predictions for the American cider market over the next five years.
Allen Hogan: Continued growth but probably slowing, current pace seems unsustainable in the medium term.