After a frigid polar vortex, CiderCon 2019 descended on Chicago with almost 1100 attendees from 44 states and 10 countries. Attendance and engagement at the 9th annual conference were the largest for the event in 3 years.
The opening general session, which included a presentation from Nielsen, touched on a topic that is important to me – the growth of cider consumption. And getting consumers to have a broader understanding of cider is a key pillar in USACM’s strategic plan, which was highlighted throughout the conference sessions.
Cider consumption has grown over 500% since 2011, but, as can be seen from the Nielsen report, cider consumption still makes up a sliver of the overall share of total alcohol beverages. There are a lot of reasons for cider having a small slice of the alcoholic pie including awareness and availability. However, I think that the perception of cider is a key hurdle that consumers need to tackle and several of the sessions we attended addressed this exact point.
Last year USCAM finalized Cider Style Guidelines Version 2.0 and as a result, we’ve found that cider makers were using the terms Modern & Heritage to describe their products during Cider Share. I also think that when a regional cider maker is able to offer modern style along with a heritage style, they are taking a big step to change the consumer’s perception.
One of these cideries is Buskey’s Hard Cider in Richmond, VA. The husband & wife team produces a Modern cider named RVA Cider – this popular cider made with a VA orchard blend has semi-dry clean apple flavors. They also produce a canned Heritage cider series which includes a Heritage Blend of Harrison, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Cameo Apples. Each of those apples is also offered as an individual cider. As such, when Buskey’s gets those customers through the door with RVA (or one of their unique ciders) they have the ability to introduce them to the different flavor profiles found in heritage ciders.
The main perception that the typical cider consumer has is that all ciders are sweet, being just an alcoholic version of the farm stand, fall apple fest product. New York Cider Association has also recognized this perception and is looking to inform the consumer by developing a dry to sweet scale that would be included on cider labels. This “how sweet it isn’t” approach is similar to the International Riesling Foundation’s Riesling Taste Profile, which has contributed to the US growth of this wine varietal. The “Orchard-Based Cider Dryness Scale” is a scale that reflects perceived dryness in four values – dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet. The sweetness level is determined using a ration of residual sugar/total acid and adjust for tannin content.
Finally, one of the other key pieces to the consumer puzzle is developing a consistent “Cider Language.” While cider is a category all its own, it is often pushed to fall within the well-defined lingo of either wine or beer. Coupled with the fact that cider has its own unique terms, consumers tend to be confused about what the product is and is not (“Cider Beer” is not a thing). Additionally, servers themselves may not understand how to adequately describe the product they are pouring. Therefore, USACM’s proposed “Cider Vocabulary Guide” is highly anticipated as a way to help develop a common cider lexicon.
We can’t wait until CiderCon 2020 in Oakland. Partly because of the warmer weather (I am planning our Spring Break escape to Galveston as I write this) but also to continue to engage with other cider lovers to help continue to a foundation of strength and diversity for the industry.