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2019: Year of the Cider

I see the growth of cider continuing in 2019. Do you?

Hummmm hannna henna hummmm… (I’m peering into my ethereal crystal ball to see what awaits us this year.)

I wanted my first blog post of 2019 to be this positive beacon of predictive educated guesses for the cider industry, a third of which would come true. Then I figured if that’s what I really want, I should just hire someone else to write my blog. It’s likely my ghost writer would be more accurate too.Instead, let’s just use this opportunity to take stock of where cider is now.

2019 is starting off with both hope and trepidation for many of us. The cider industry saw some fantastic growth last year, thanks in part to the public discovery of rosé cider. Several cider makers are seeking to monetize this opportunity while still remaining true to their own brand. Some already have.

The trepidation comes in the form of the economic, social and political instability in America today. You can call it coincidence that the upcoming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Pig, last seen in 2007. Hmm… 2007. Wasn’t that the beginning of the end for the US housing market and domestic auto manufacturers? And there was a Republican in office that didn’t win the popular vote, right? We’ll call it irony that, in Chinese culture, pigs are associated with fortune and wealth.

Really, though, let’s get back to cider. Here are some reasons to be positive about cider for the coming year.

Subject to weather, 2019 should be a year when we see more cider apples literally come to fruition than in any other year this century. Orchards that were planned and planted between 2014-2016 should finally be rewarding their owners with productive fruit this year. This should ultimately translate into an increase in the quality of ciders based on cider apples. That’s not to say current quality is lacking, simply it’s a chance to explore more cider apples individually and as blends. It's also an opportunity to further investigate the idea of terroir with regards to where particular cider apples grow.

Just last month, the USACM released Cider Style Guidelines v2.0. It defines four Standard Styles and eleven Specialty Styles. Download it here. This gives producers an agreed upon reference point that they can use to educate distributors, retailers and consumers alike. Having this common language as cider makers fight for space in the market is a huge positive.

Consumer mindset is favorable to cider. More consumers that have discretionary income are seeking lower alcohol products. (There’s even this small movement of non-alcoholic spirits. Don’t ask.) The number of consumers that are brand (and item) loyal are decreasing. There is still a strong curiosity among consumers about what they put into their bodies. These are all consumer trends that favor a natural, relatively lower alcohol product such as cider.

The number of operational cideries should top 1,000 in 2019. With more than 9,500 wineries, 7,000 breweries and 2,700 distilleries, there’s still plenty of room to grow. The prominent apple-growing regions top the list of states with the most cider producers - New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania (in that order). However, there are a number of states that are head-scratchers (like New Jersey with only 3). There’s potential for growth.

Distributors are changing how they think about cider. When national brands like Johnny Appleseed did not meet expectations in 2014-2015, major beer distributors pronounced cider as a fad that would die the way of Zima or Hard Soda. (Not coincidentally, these are the same distributors that are still waiting for the “craft beer bubble” to burst.) The long tail of craft beer that continues to strengthen on the regional and local level has given distributors reason to take new risks with cider brands at the local level. Many of these risks have started paying off, encouraging distributors to continue to add local and regional cider brands.

With all of these facets lining up in cider’s favor, it’s hard not to be bullish about the category moving forward. What do you think about cider’s future? Am I wrong to be bullish? Let’s hear what you think.

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