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Carlsberg slakes US cider thirst with Somersby first

By Ben Bouckley , 08-Oct-2012

Somersby Cider in its UK incarnation, launched in mid July
Somersby Cider in its UK incarnation, launched in mid July

Crown Imports will launch Carlsberg’s Somersby Hard Apple Cider into test markets across the US, as major players scramble to plug the gap left by a slump in mainstream beer sales.

The exclusive import deal – announced by Constellation Brands CEO and president Robert Sands during an investor call to discuss his firm’s Q2 2013 earnings last Friday – sees Carlsberg follow in the footsteps of other major players Miller Coors, AB InBev and C&C Group.

“Cider is hot right now. We’ve got a great new cider brand that we’re introducing, Somersby. We expect that to be very favorable,” Sands said.

A late September report from US-based research firm Technomic, 2012 Beer Trends in Adult Beverages, stated that (despite still accounting for more 4/5 of total alcohol volume) beer posted a 1.3% sales decline in 2011, with volumes of 2.8bn 2.25-gallon cases for the year.

However, cider emerged as a bright spot, the firm said (where it is nominally a category within the beer industry, albeit the smallest) tapping into many of the same consumer trends driving craft beer and posting a 31.3% gain.

Shifting beer dynamics

Glossing the beer decline in more detail, Donna Hood Crecca, senior director, Adult Beverage Resource Group at Technomic, said: “The core consumers for the major domestic brands were among those most impacted by the recession, so their spending habits changed.

"At the same time, taste preferences evolved, especially among younger consumers, and we saw beer drinkers increasingly seeking different styles and more complex or varied flavor profiles. Both trends affected the powerhouse categories and brands, which resulted in the overall decline.”

Domestic light beer accounts for more than half of total US beer volume and fell 2.6%, while regular domestic beer (1/5 of total volumes) declined 3.2%. Both categories are populated by large volume but mature brands, Technomic said. 

Several evolving categories

However, discussing gains in several 'evolving' categories, Technomic said imported beer sales hit 385m cases in 2011, as Mexican beers dominated and found favor with both mainstream and Hispanic consumers.

Craft beer volume sales rose 11.2% to account for 5.5 percent of total beer volume, benefiting interest in artisanal and local products with unique styles and flavor profiles. 

AB InBev is the clear US market leader in beer with a 47.9% volumes share, followed by Miller Coors with 29.3%, Crown Imports with 5.8%, Heineken USA with 4% and Pabst Brewing Company (2.5%).