In recent years, hard cider has become the darling of the ready-to-drink alcoholic-beverage segment. Although cider has long been popular in Europe, it is currently in the midst of a renaissance in Canada. “If you go back four or five years, [cider] was a fairly niche category and it really took off with the [launch of] the Somersby brand (a brand of 4.5 per cent ABV cider by Danish brewing company Carlsberg Group) in the Ontario market,” explains Mark Wilson, Beer and Cider Category manager for the Toronto-based Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). “In a couple of years, it very quickly became our number-1 brand.”
Consumers are being drawn to cider for a variety of reasons. Because most traditional ciders are made with only apple, water and yeast, they offer a natural alternative to coolers. As a predominantly gluten-free product, cider is also seen as a celiac-friendly alternative to beer. “If you’re mainly a beer drinker, cider offers a bit of a change over the course of an evening,” adds Wilson. And with sweet, dry and flavoured varieties available, cider casts a wide net.
In B.C., licensee sales in the cider category grew in volume by 11.1 per cent in the year ending March 2015. Unlike in Ontario, the majority of this growth can be attributed to a 27.2-per-cent jump in imported-cider sales, with domestic ciders experiencing a more modest 6.7-per-cent boost in sales (by volume).
According to Wilson, it’s a different story in Ontario, where a burgeoning craft-cider industry has taken root. According to a LCBO press release, sales of Ontario cider have “more than quadrupled in the last three years.”
“If you go back 10 years, about three-quarters of our [cider] sales were in imported ciders — because it was a much bigger business in the U.K. than it ever was in Ontario — but over the past year, a lot of the growth has been coming from the local craft industry,” notes Wilson. “It was a relatively small part of our business, but it’s up about 55 per cent over the past year.” Overall, cider sales rose 18.6 per cent in fiscal year 2015/16.
That said, players of all sizes, from all parts of the country have taken note of cider’s surging popularity, with provinces such as B.C. and Nova Scotia gaining a fresh crop of cider producers. Heavyweight Molson Coors Canada also answered this trend — launching its Molson Canadian Cider in 2013. Similar to craft beer, the industry’s big players have begun scooping up successful craft cideries. For example, last year Labatt-owned Mill Street Brewery acquired Toronto-based Brickworks Ciderhouse. Labatt Breweries of Canada also acquired Okanagan Cider, as part a portfolio of ready-to-drink products, in late 2015.