Our more observant friends have noticed a picture of our orchards in both the Times and Telegraph newspapers today. With barely a sentence of print to describe the photographs, what’s the story?
Like many industries linked to the hospitality industry, cider sales have been hit badly by the national lock-downs. For the larger manufacturers, pub sales and summer festivals are where the profit lies. Supermarket sales are hyper-competitive and customers tend to drink less at home than they do when enjoying themselves in the company of friends. The end result has been reduced sales and profits hit hard. In the run-up to COVID-19, the big British Cider makers had identified an over-production of traditional cider apple varieties being grown under contract. This doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced consumption of cider, just that modern, mass produced ciders now prefer to use blander dessert apple juice rather than the complex flavours and tanins of traditional cider varieties. Having reduced the acreage of their orchards, some of the largest producers are still holding large stocks of cider apple concentrate and it seems senseless to just keep stockpiling a product that appears not to be in high demand. Hence, much of last years crop and again this year, will be use to generate electricity rather than being pressed and concentrated. This is not true of all companies. Some have simply reduced the contracted volume to match demand. Conversely, smaller cider makers have fared much better. While retail opportunities of summer festivals have hit sales volumes hard, those that supply farm shops, managed to switch to internet and farm gate sales, have fared better than their bigger brothers. While our crop has gone to the local AD plant, last year we pressed more than 120,000 litres of apple juice for local cider makers to ferment into artisan cider. That’s more than twice as much as the year before. Local ciders are thriving and will kick back quickly now that hospitality and pubs have reopened. Lets hope for a hot and busy summer and lots of thirsts to quench.