The sweet but tart taste of switchel – which Cide Road makes with apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, ginger, cane syrup and water in a 14oz glass bottle with a suggested retail price of $3.29-$3.49 - can be polarizing, but it meets a growing demand for bolder, more sophisticated, flavors that has helped to drive sales of products such as kombucha, says Duffy.
"It's very exciting to watch the drinking vinegar category, particularly the switchel category, growing at this rate.
"With the rise in popularity of switchel and vinegar beverages in general, it is apparent that palates are evolving from the fad of artificial sweeteners to more complex blended flavors that balance sweet, sour and tangy.
"Consumers want brands that are healthy and taste great."
According to SPINS data provided by Cide Road, the brand has an 82% dollar share and an 84% unit share of the US retail switchel category (all outlets) with 230% dollar growth in the 12 weeks to August 7, 2016 vs the same period in 2015.
Within the “broader drinking vinegar product universe,” SPINS data suggests that Cide Road is the #3 brand, he said.
Switchel has a lower price point than kombucha and many of the HPP drinks
"The switchel/drinking vinegar market is growing quite healthily. As for switchel, there are several regional players evolving. As for the overall drinking vinegar space, there are a couple of more established players like Suja (click HERE) and Kevita (click HERE) that have recently made a strong push into the space. One of the unique qualities of vinegar as an ingredient is that so much innovation in flavor and formula can be developed using it. I think all the brands that make up the drinking vinegar space are pretty unique including the handful of current switchel offerings."
He added: "I believe that our experience with Kroger will soon cause other large and conventional outlets to carry Cide Road and other drinking vinegars as well.
"I also believe that stores like Kroger are crossing over to offer more natural and organic items. Switchel is a shelf stable product and has a lower price point than kombucha and many of the HPP drinks and offers a similar, albeit more approachable flavor profile, and these qualities may make it appealing to conventional grocery chains and the growing national movement toward health and wellness."
'America’s original thirst quencher’
While some affionados make all kinds of claims about switchel’s purported digestive health benefits, Cide Road prefers to focus on its distinctive taste and all-American roots (each bottle features the strapline, 'America’s original thirst quencher') and does not make any on-pack claims, although apple cider vinegar has been shown to aid blood sugar management in some clinical studies.
Cide Road co-founders Kevin Duffy and his wife Hilary La Forge came across switchel (of the home-made variety) during a family vacation in Vermont, and it blew their minds.
“I asked the lady who made it if I could buy the recipe, and she basically said don't waste your money, it's very easy, just work out how to make it yourself,” said Duffy.
So he did, initially in his kitchen, and later with beverage consultancy MetaBrand, which helped him formulate a commercial recipe and find the industry contacts to turn his vision into a commercial reality.
The first orders arrived in early 2015, said Duffy, who has struck deals with natural products distributors UNFI and KeHE over the past year and is now working on several line extensions.
The custom-designed bottle – which features a distinctive tire tread – was Duffy’s idea: “I sprayed some paint onto the tires of my 1961 red Land Rover [which features on Cide Road’s marketing materials and website] and drive over [some paper] and then faxed it to the designer at Berlin Packaging that MetaBrand put me in touch with, and said, can you do something like this? And he said, Sure.”