Creating an online store is one thing, but you have to get people there and get them in a buying frame of mind.

It’s no exaggeration to say the recent pandemic has had a profound—possibly devastating—impact on hospitality businesses. Restaurants and bars have shut their doors and furloughed staff, or laid them off outright. Many have simply given up and closed for good. Even when re-opened, the requirements of social distancing are sure to mean significant changes for the foreseeable future.

Their myriad suppliers have taken an equally painful economic hit. Cider businesses are no exception, and many have lost 60 percent or more of their income. Most rely on a mix of wholesale and retail sales, and, with the former non-existent, cider companies are having to pivot quickly and find new ways to reach retail customers. Creating an online store is one thing, but you have to get people there and get them in a buying frame of mind.

A number of cider businesses are turning to the virtual world to do just that. In May, UK-based cider expert Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist, used Instagram Live to promote the entire global cider industry in a whirlwind virtual tour. He invited producers from 19 countries on every continent (save Antarctica) to give a quick snapshot of their region and their ciders. More than 800 viewers from 26 countries tuned in and ended up with a greater appreciation for the breadth and scope of the modern cider world.

At the beginning of 2020, Felix Nash of The Fine Cider Company was a thriving craft-cider distributor in London. He’s had to quickly reimagine a business that was 95 percent wholesale and 5 percent online-retail to one that’s almost entirely online, as most of his wholesale customers closed over a single week in March. To open up his consumer base, he’s created virtual tasting sessions using Instagram Live, pairing a cider-knowledgeable food professional or sommelier with one of the cidermakers he represents. Publicizing the cidermaker guest well ahead of time gives customers time to order the ciders that will be tasted so they can join in.

One of these is Little Pomona, based in Herefordshire in the UK. “Zoom and Instagram Live have provided a valuable chance to connect, to learn, and to ignite interest,” offers co-owner Susanna Forbes. “It does take time, and this needs to be factored in. The best sessions take planning and strategy…but these platforms are helping us reach new audiences.”

Individual cidermakers are also holding virtual tastings. Eleanor Leger, owner of Eden Specialty Ciders in Newport, Vt., started by creating a three-cider tasting kit, representing a spectrum of flavors and price points, plus a cider tasting notebook. Available on her website, she invites purchasers to join regularly scheduled Zoom meetings (a purchase is not required) where she gives a virtual tour of the company, highlighting what makes small, orchard-focused Eden different from big national brands, as well as a bit of gentle education about the ciders she makes as they taste through them together. “This is all about consumer engagement to boost online sales,” says Leger.

It can also augment consumer outreach even once the world has returned to whatever the new normal will be.