When it comes to tracking and analyzing global sales data, the standard is certainly set by Nielsen. While providing much useful information, in a category like cider, though, data from global research company Nielsen alone doesn’t present the complete picture. It relies primarily on point-of-sale (POS) scans from grocery and convenience stores, and sometimes data from larger restaurant chains. What typically gets missed are direct-to-consumer sales, off-premise sales from smaller local retail outlets, and on-premise sales at local restaurants and bars, all of which are key channels for the many cider companies whose reach is strictly regional. Even with limited data, a Q2 2019 report prepared for the U.S. Association of Cider Makers (USACM) shows strong double digit sales growth for regional cider brands—even as national brands have been experiencing a downtrend, which highlights the importance of smaller producers in the market.
This situation can leave a restaurant or local store chain that wants to create an exciting cider menu in a challenging position. Many distributors aren’t particularly interested in smaller brands, and if those are the brands that are important to consumers, how does a buyer or beverage director find them?
Perhaps the answer lies in local, consumer-facing cider tasting events. Typically at these gatherings, there will be 10 to 50 individual producers, most of which are both small and based in the area, pouring tasting portions to cider drinkers both new and experienced. Not only is it an opportunity to try some interesting ciders, but a savvy buyer can get valuable first-hand information about local consumer preferences. Here’s a list of some of the best around the country.
Franklin County Cider Days. Located in Franklin County, Mass., and now in its 25th year, it’s the oldest event of its kind in the country. Multiple sessions stretch throughout the first weekend in November, but the one to catch is the salon tasting (held in two sessions on Saturday night). franklincountyciderdays.org
The Cider Summits. Put on by SBS-Imports, the Summits are held at different times of year in four different cities: Chicago; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle. Participating companies are drawn from the region, though some brands from out of the area are included as well. At the most recent Summit, in September in Seattle, roughly 20 percent of participating cideries were new this year, and for most of these, it was their debut product to the market. cidersummitnw.com
PA Ciderfest. Every one of the 30 or so cider companies pouring at the June 2019 festival hailed from some part of Pennsylvania, the third largest grower of apples in the United States. After just four years, this has become one of the best regional cider festivals on the East Coast. paciderfest.com
Richmond Cider Celebration. Held each November as part of Cider Week VA, this event is only open to Virginia-based companies, many of which use classic cider apples that originated in the state. ciderweekva.com
Colorado Cider Circus. Named by the USACM as Cider Event of the Year in 2018, the CO Cider Circus moved to Denver in August 2019. Participating companies are predominately from the mountain west. cidercircus.com
These are just the tip of the iceberg. A quick search is sure to turn up one wherever you are.