Hard knocks for cider

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Hard-cider marketers hope to tap into Americans' thirst for alternative alcoholic products-but it may be too late for a category that has been squeezed by the hard lemonades it seeks to emulate.

Heading into October, one of the biggest months for hard cider, marketers are ramping up sampling and tapping agencies to distill information about the English mainstay.

"It's difficult to tell people what cider is. A lot of people hear `cider' and think of it as a nonalcoholic product-apple juice," said Mark Woodard, national sales manager for William Magner, marketer of Magners, the No. 7 hard-cider brand after a year on the U.S. market.

E&J Gallo Winery's Hornsby is the closest this country comes to a national cider, with a declining 26% share of the 4.3 million case cider market last year. Most ciders are regional but are trying to branch out-Magners, for example, has a five-year plan to go national. Bulmers America, which markets No. 2 brand Woodchuck and No. 3 brand Cider Jack, tapped Clarke Goward, Boston, last month to handle Woodchuck and next month begins testing English export Strongbow in select markets with an eye toward national distribution by March.

Strongbow advertising will follow, possibly in the spring, said Wendy Kramer, VP-marketing. She is looking for an agency to handle the account, which she estimated at an initial $5 million.

Constellation Brands entered the field with K cider in March and Anheuser-Busch Cos. is mulling an apple version of its Doc Otis lemon-flavored malt beverage. "Competition is heating up because people see opportunity to grow the category. We welcome it because it gets more people to cider," said Raela Ripaldi, senior brand manager on Cider Jack.

The category, however, went flat last year. After growing from 100,000 cases in 1990 to 4.4 million in 1999, sales last year dropped slightly as consumers migrated to hard lemonades, which last year sold more than 12 million cases, according to figures from Impact's 2001 beer study.

Frank Walters, research director at Impact, said "We had expected great things from the [cider] category, but since hard lemonades came in, we've reversed."

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