A cider maker is hoping to take inspiration from the world of beer to boost his sales. Enda Mullen reports
The rise of the microbrewery has shown the way to greater success for a Warwickshire cider maker – who is looking as far afield as Thailand for potential sales.
Allen Hogan, who founded Hogan’s Cider seven years ago, said the explosion in demand for cask-conditioned ale has demonstrated the cider industry could achieve similar success with more traditional product.
The company, which is based near Alcester, has recently diversified its range with the launch of three “bag-in-box” ciders that are flat and cloudy rather than carbonated and clear.
As part of its continued expansion Hogan’s is looking to increase its exporting activities. It currently exports to the US and is in the process of setting up deals to export to both Hong Kong and Thailand.
Speaking about the company’s new direction, Mr Hogan said: “We spotted a bit of a gap in the market. There has been a real trend among drinkers for real ales and cask ales have seen fantastic growth.
“There’s also been a resurgence in smaller brewers producing genuine cask ales with around 70-80 starting up each year. Now there are probably about 700 in the UK. On the back of that we are seeing a real interest in cloudy cider.”
The new range – Hazy Daisy, Picker’s Passion and Panking Pole – will be available in pubs, along with the company’s existing draught cider, though if it proves a hit Mr Hogan hopes to make a version available in shops where its bottled cider is currently sold.
Hogan’s supplies both Waitrose and Tesco, along with smaller farm shops and delicatessens with bottled cider, while its draught product is supplied to around 150 pubs nationwide through partnerships with local brewers.
In the Midlands it works with brewer Purity, which distributes its cider to around 50 pubs, while in Suffolk it has a partnership with Adnams.
Mr Hogan, who enjoyed a successful career in the IT industry before deciding to turn his hobby into a business venture, said the firm has grown substantially since it was founded and was now turning over more than £500,000 annually.
Its draught product currently accounts for around 70 per cent of business with bottled product around 25 per cent, though Mr Hogan said he expects the bag-in-box product to make up 25 per cent of its business a year from now.
“Last year was our fastest year of growth, revenues increased by 50 per cent to March 2012, prior to that we were enjoying 30 to 40 per cent growth,” he said.
“But we have to be careful as we can only make it once a year. We have to have made enough cider to fuel any anticipated growth.
“We could have grown faster but didn’t always have the product to fuel that growth.”
Unlike brewing, cider-making involves a long lead-in time, meaning it has more similarities to wine production.
“I envy brewers – they can make a beer in a week but cider takes much more time, and is more akin to wine making. You have to get the fruit juice and there’s a long fermentation process,” said Mr Hogan.
“It can be nine months from picking the fruit to enjoying the drink – whereas a brewer can have a beer ready within days. It’s a very different business to brewing, you have to be patient waiting for the whole process to complete.”
The firm got off the ground with Mr Hogan’s own money and has expanded through funding from family members and a network of contacts, who he said liked the “romantic proposition” of investing in a cider business.
Hogan’s buys fruit from specialist growers in the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and works with third parties to press, bottle and keg the product. It currently has 600,000 litres of cider-making capacity and produces its core product at Castlemorton in Worcestershire in stainless steel tanks before blending and processing it.
As well as attempting to cash in on the real ale resurgence Mr Hogan said the industry also owed much to cider becoming fashionable, a trend that was sparked by Magners and led to double digit growth in the cider market.
Mr Hogna added: “Cider has been around for 1,000 years, some say before beer, but had been rather neglected and ignored. The industry was dumbed down and just wanted a product that was produced cheaply. The cider world had been rather stagnant and flat for many years and was going nowhere. It had stable volumes but no growth.
“Magners came along and applied a bit of marketing nous and started to make it very fashionable again particularly among younger drinkers.
“In 2004 you could into a pub in London and all you would see was a forest of Magners cider bottles on the tables. How they did that was they encouraged the pub trade to add ice to the glass. You could never get all of the cider into a pint, you had to carry your glass back to the table that immediately gave them branding and lots of exposure.”