Cider pips ale in top drinks

Inexorable rise sees sector sales up £102 million

Cider has overtaken ale in the off-trade for the first time after putting on a ­staggering £102 million in sales in the past year.

The category's 29 per cent growth makes it the fastest-growing part of the take-home market, and leapfrogging the once-mighty ale sector has given it an extra psychological boost.

According to Nielsen data for the year to April 21, the alcoholic drinks market grew by 4 per cent in the off-trade to just over £12 billion, while the on-trade went up by 2 per cent to £21.7 billion.

Ale grew off-trade sales by £8 million in the past year, while RTDs are the worst-performing category in the top 10 with sales down £22 million.

Rupert Thompson, boss of Refresh UK which produces Hobgoblin and Brakspear ales as well as the new Green Goblin cider, said ale producers should not worry about losing ground to cider.

"It doesn't give me concerns about the future of ale. There is no doubt that cider is doing very well but I'm equally sure that, as with all these trends, there will be a settling-down at some point.

"Ale is offering something different to the consumer and we believe there is still growth potential in specialist quality ales."

Magners marketing director Maurice Breen rejected comparisons with the RTD boom of the 1990s. "I feel it's a much more sustainable growth that we're experiencing and I think there's a lot more to come," he said.

"We're seeing consumers coming back to premium products and drinking long drinks in a slightly different way.

"There will be a slight flattening-out of growth but I don't see the parallels with RTDs at all."

Light wine sales are up 4 per cent, fuelled mainly by the growth in rosé.

The on-trade continues to outperform the off-trade in terms of cider sales.

Only 29 per cent of cider is bought in the take-home market and the on-trade is reporting growth of a massive 40 per cent.

Top drinks categories in the off-trade

1 Light wine £5.3bn +4%

2 Lager £2.8bn +5%

3 Blended whisky £735m -3%

4 Vodka £670m +6%

5 Cider £453m +29%

6 Ale £447m +2%

7 Champagne £320m +5%

8 Gin £251m +2%

9 Sparkling wine £250m +10%

10 RTDs £221m -9%

Nielsen figures for year to April 21 2007