Step 1: Put a bag in a box.
Step 2: Put the juice in the bag.
Step 3: Open the spout on the bottom.
Ok, seriously, I don't know that anyone's going to put cider in a box (a la boxed wine), but with marketing magnates gravitating to cider, anything is possible I suppose.
I wanted to take some time this week to talk about packaging. While most wines are known to come in the traditional corked 750ml bottle, cider packaging ranges all over the place. I've seen everything including 64oz screw-top jugs, flip-top 16oz bottles, sleek slim 8oz cans and crown-capped pint bottles - and that's just the notable wacky ones that I've seen for sale. I'm sure there are plenty of other creative homemade solutions too.
But let's look at wine packaging for a second. Aside from the 750ml bottle, you have your less expensive volume wines in 1.5L bottles, 3L or 5L boxed wine, jug wines (used predominantly for volume cooking). Then you also have some unique trends coming forward like canned wine. The interesting caveat is that US federal law dictates that wines (and spirits for that matter), must be packaged in specific formats. So the majority of your wine cans out there are actually 12.7oz or 375ml (a half-bottle, if you will).
I can't see cider going into the arena of 1.5L bottles, boxed or jugged simply because the option to package and sell cider like beer already exists. If any cider company is going to move volume packaged cider, they are going to focus on offering 12-pack bottles or cans instead of a 6-pack. I'm familiar with at least one cider brand that chooses to offer a 9-pack as the volume upgrade to their 4-packs.
Then there's also the ability for cider to move kegs. And this, I feel, is where cider that has structure, depth and character like wine faces it's biggest challenge. I have had the pleasure and privilege of drinking some amazing ciders out of a keg. The problem is that cider makers must make huge margin sacrifices to put their amazing products into kegs. Without getting into specific numbers, it is far more profitable for the cider maker to sell their cider by the bottle. Kegs come with their own challenges. If the producer leases the kegs, they pay a heavy price for the convenience of not having to retrieve their own keg from the retailer or distributor. If they buy their own stock of kegs, they can anticipate losing a minimum of 10-15% of the kegs they sell into the market. However, the expectation of most that would buy cider to serve at a bar or restaurant is that cider should be in a keg. Why? Because the cumulative profit levels are so high for the bar or restaurant versus selling it by the bottle or can.
This is a huge catch-22 for wine-like cider. Different producers are tackling it in different ways. Some have chosen to make a few ciders that are exclusively bottled. Others are refusing to keg outright and are pushing the price of their bottles up to justify the lack of volume with profit. Strategic producers are adjusting the mix of cider apples they use to make a quality, structured cider that is less costly to produce. Then there are those that are seeking out alternate packages, like 12oz cans, to mitigate some of the profit loss that they would otherwise lose in kegs.
I don't know that we've found a perfect answer to this challenge just yet. I expect that many will continue to seek out ways to find the balance of profit and volume that works best for them. However, I think cider can take a page from other industries to solve this. Underwood Pinot Noir sells 4-packs of 12.7oz cans for $28. There are plenty of craft breweries that are commanding $20 for a 4-pack of 16oz cans for their hot new limited releases. Why can't cider take advantage of this as well?