The days when more than 350 types of apple were grown specifically for cider production may be gone, but British orchards are still intrinsically linked with cider-making.
Just under half (45%) of all apples grown in the UK are used for cider, according to the National Association of Cider Manufacturers. Somerset, Suffolk and Herefordshire are the key cider-apple-growing regions. With the origins of cider ingredients easy to trace, the locality of the apples used is often featured in promotion to appeal to consumers interested in the provenance of their food and drink. Despite the number of apples grown in the UK for cider, the volume is still not enough to meet the needs of cider manufacturers, who import apple juice to meet the shortfall.
In recent years, cider manufacturers have pulled off a successful marketing reinvention of the category, ensuring the drink appeals to its core audience of 18- to 34-year-old drinkers.
Between 2005 and 2010 volume sales increased 46% from 574m litres to 840m, according to Mintel. It grew its on-trade volume by 8% in the period - a time of declining pub visitors and premises closing.
Even so, the growth in popularity of premium-packaged bottled cider meant the off-trade leap of 91% in volume sales was the more impressive. The value in 2010 is estimated to have reached £2.17bn.
By moving to bottles from draught and introducing serving styles such as over ice, cider has attracted new drinkers, including women. Although bottled cider had been behind much of the resurgence in the past few years, draught is now benefiting from more innovation. Brothers, for example, is piloting a font that can serve three different fruit-flavoured ciders, while Magners is testing an extra-cold variant.
Despite the tougher economic climate, niche premium cider brands such as Rekorderlig, Kopparberg and Savanna Dry are attracting drinkers through their artisan credentials and premium packaging.
Aspall has gone even further upmarket with the introduction of its Cuvee Chevallier Double Fermented English Cyder, which it launched last year. Packaged to look like - and compete with - sparkling wine, it retails at about £10 for a 750ml bottle.
Strongbow, though, remains the bestselling cider in the off-trade and has benefited from the vast distribution network of its owner, Heineken. Other brands in Heineken's cider stable include Bulmers, Jacques Fruits des Bois, Woodpecker and Scrumpy Jack.
C&C's Magners is second in terms of share. C&C also owns Blackthorn, Olde English and Gaymers following its acquisition of the Gaymer Cider Company in January 2010.
Compared with other alcoholic drinks, the government has been more lenient with excise duty on cider. This has allowed small and big companies alike to thrive.
The prognosis for the sector is that market conditions will be tough as duty and VAT rises push up retail selling prices. While the coalition scrapped Labour's proposed cider duty, it looks set to keep the 'tax escalator', which means duty is 2% above inflation each year until 2014.
So while cider's growth over the past few years has been impressive, for it to be maintained, more non-cider drinkers must be drawn in. According to research by Toluna, the majority of non-cider drinkers do not consciously decide not to buy the product, instead, they simply do not think of it as an option. Indeed, 59% would consider drinking it in the future. If brands can tap into this group, sales may grow.
This year is expected to be tough for the alcohol sector. Overall, though, Mintel predicts the next five years will see a 23% rise in volume sales and 45% rise in value. Its forecast is based on the popularity of pear and fruit cider and the fact that cider continues to be taxed at a lower rate than other alcoholic drinks. However, in real terms this equates to a rise of 22% (growth if price inflation and excise duty are not accounted for), taking its value to £2.64bn by 2015. This is deemed more accurate than the £3.13bn, at current value.
Moreover, by 2015 value sales in the off-trade are forecast to overtake those in the on-trade for the first time in cider's history, as consumers continue to opt for home-drinking.