Untapped Potential In Hard Cider Market

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Lehman's Orchard

Editor’s note: The market for hard cider is expanding, and apple growers are taking notice. American/Western Fruit Grower sought out growers who have added hard cider production to their orchards, and we got more feedback than we ever imagined.

With crop uncertainty and a need to generate other income from the orchard, apple growers are turning to a traditional American beverage — hard cider — as an additional source of revenue. With consumers’ interest in the local food movement, gluten-free options, and farming as a whole, orchards are adding and expanding their offerings beyond the traditional “sweet cider” into hard cider, and finding with it a demand for this product.

Click here to see how hard cider is made.

“The hard ciders are just as much a part of this excitement,” says Miranda Russell, co-owner of Russell Orchard in Ipswich, MA. “With (sweet) cider and hard cider and all of the products that we make, we’ve been fortunate to follow that groundswell of enthusiasm.”

Russell Holmberg, of Holmberg Orchards & Winery in Gales Ferry, CT, sees hard cider production as something done in the off-season. “The project grew out of personal interest and an excess of good quality apples for (hard) cider making.” (Holmberg is a GenNext Grower; for more, visit GenNextGrowers.com.)

The Hard Cider Market

According to IBIS World, sales of domestic hard cider have more than tripled from $178 million in 2007 to $600 million in 2012. To keep things in perspective, hard cider sales amount to less than 1% of the beer market, according to research firm Symphony IRI.

“The market is probably going to grow triple digits this year. It grew 80% last year, according to the data, from the previous year. We’ve been enjoying triple digit growth for five years now in the (hard) cider industry, not only us but the big boys, too,” says Mike Beck, president of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, MI, and the president of the newly-formed United States Association of Cider Makers. “No other beverage category has had this kind of interest ever in the history of beverages.”

For more from Beck on the market, click here to watch a video interview.

Bruce McIntosh, owner of McIntosh Orchards and Wine Cellar in South Haven, MI, attended a recent hard cider conference in Chicago and recalls a speaker who said, “(hard) cider represents about 0.3% of the beer market and they expect over the next few years that it will probably reach about 3%, which is a tenfold increase.”

A Natural Addition

Adding hard cider production to an orchard has several motivating factors, whether it is excess apples, sustainability, or to create an additional source of revenue.

For some growers, it is a value-added item on their farm, but for Steve Wood, owner of Poverty Lane Orchards & Farnum Hill Ciders, in Lebanon, NH, “it’s not value added. There is no value to these apples (we use) except for (hard) cider. This is not secondary value. It’s primary value. We are making cider from proper (hard) cider apples that are not very good to eat. There’s no place else to sell them.”

McClure’s Orchard and Winery in Peru, IN, shipped excess apples at wholesale prices for juice for several years. “We were just breaking even on our picking and equipment costs (on a good year),” says owner Jason McClure. “We decided that making our hard ciders and wines for purchase, as a value-added product, might be a way to create that sustainability and security we had been wanting.”  

Steve Lecklider, owner of Lehman’s Orchard in Niles, MI, notes that adding hard cider is a natural addition, saying “a lot of orchards may have a cider press and so you’re already there. All you have to do is make sure that you don’t pasteurize it, and adjust the sugar and a little bit of the acid and add the yeast, possibly use nutrients and make sure everything is clean, and you have a decent fermentation.”

“Why not?” is the answer Beck gave for adding hard cider. “We were doing a lot of value-added already. …  I also saw the boom in the wine industry here in Michigan and I figured I can do this with apples.” Beck also notes that he received a USDA value-added producer grant to add hard cider production. “They gave us close to $100,000 to get started in the hard cider business,” he says.

“We realized (we needed) to make our small farm economically sustainable, so we started learning about value-added production,” says Crystie Kisler, co-owner of Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, WA.

Along with Kisler, Shannon Showalter, co-owner of Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse in Timberville, VA; Matthew Critz, owner of Critz Farms in Cazenovia, NY; and Jolie DeVoto Wade, co-owner of DeVoto Gardens in Sebastopol, CA, saw adding hard cider as a way to increase on-farm revenue while adding some stability. “The orchard and the hard cider were all part of a plan to generate a whole cash flow from the farm,” says Critz.

“We really want to be farmers, but we realized that working on the farm would not make us a sustainable living. So we had to turn to value-added product, and (hard) cider just made sense,” says DeVoto Wade.

Showalter notes that a local small business development center provided some inspiration. “The lady that worked with us closely (at the center) said ‘why don’t you consider hard ciders?’ She had just been to a cidery, and at that time it was one of two in the state of Virginia,” says Showalter. “I wasn’t aware that it was catching on as quickly as it was. And so as we started looking at it, we already had the equipment. We already had part of the up-front equipment, so it made sense for us.”

Christina Herrick is a copy editor with the Horticulture Group at Meister Media Worldwide.

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