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Planning Ahead of the Curve

Photo Credit: Luke Porter on Unsplash

No matter how you look at 2020, it’s been a change for everyone. And while most years have their fair share of changes, this year’s changes seem to have been more extreme than most. Regardless of how extraordinary they have been, the wheel of time will continue to spin forward and your business will still need to evolve to survive and thrive. In short, you still need to plan.

You know that if consumers will just taste your cider, they will love it and buy it. In-store tastings and massive consumer events are not going to suddenly reappear in January just because the calendar changes. Yes, the vaccine is coming, but a vaccine is not a cure. And, vaccine or no, this will continue to be a challenge for your business. What does this mean for your business? It means you must plan, now more than ever. Here are a few ways you can plan to stay ahead of the curve in 2021.

Consumer Engagement

Consumer engagement must be the primary focus for selling your cider. If you've been banking on a "if you build it, they will come" strategy, that's going to come to an end if it hasn't already. Whether this is achieved through tasting room visits, social media interaction, email or even revising labels, the need to get the consumer to listen to what you have to say will be the ultimate determinant of reaching your sales goals. Your story is important, but the consumer needs to hear it, identify with it and act upon it. Interaction is critical.

There is also an incredible opportunity to get creative with this. Send a message by pigeon post. Have a video call with customers to create amazing food pairings with the cider they just received. Send them an apple of each of the varieties in the cider - or the pre-fermented juice blend - to see how much changes through fermentation.

Buck Trends

The movement toward locally produced products is still very viable, but that doesn’t mean you have to sell locally to the exclusion of all other markets. There are ways to expand your footprint without charging into a full market launch. Whether that means selling online through e-commerce sites like VinoShipper or distributing to select accounts in a market through LibDib, the ability to reach customers that are not local has never been easier.

Another trend to consider bucking in the New Year is the style/flavor bandwagon. You make great cider. If you’re going to add another flavor or style to your lineup, it should be within the framework of the brand you’ve created. It needs to be authentic to the identity of your brand because if it isn’t, consumers will sniff that out quickly. Authenticity is a trend that is still trending up and, actually, one that you should not buck.

Decrease Distributor Reliance

If there was one lesson many producers learned the hard way this year, it was their over-reliance on distributors to support their brand. This was not exclusive to cider; beer suffered as well. The prevailing logic of building your brand on-premise meant that so many brands had kegs, bottles and cans sitting in accounts that were shuttered. Sure, the sting faded in the summer a bit as outdoor events and dining reopened and consumption increased. But the holidays have seen a greater spike than the first wave and now there is danger again.

Considering how many producers each distributor is under contract to represent and how many restaurants are not likely to survive the winter, building the strategy of building your business on-premise must be abandoned. Communicate this with your distributor(s). Ask what they are planning with brands similar to yours. Your interaction with distributors must be succinct and direct. Decrease your expectations for distributor sales and communicate your must-wins clearly.

The curve is getting steeper every day. Succeeding in 2021 might be even more challenging than 2020. The path to success will vary for each producer based on their history both in the volume they produce and their previous sales. You must plan in order to stay ahead of the curve. It might mean having uncomfortable conversations. It might mean changing what you originally intended to do even just six months ago. Start by being honest with yourself and finding the right path forward for your business.

And if you need someone to bounce ideas off of, that’s why I’m here. I may have a few of my own too.

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