A growing hard apple cider industry in the U.S. has the potential to contribute to local, sustainable food systems. In order to better understand this resurgent industry, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems surveyed hard apple cider businesses across 12 states in the North Central Region. Questions focused on basic business profile, production, sales, sourcing of apples, marketing approaches, distribution strategies, constraints and opportunities in the industry, and cider makers’ preferences for future research and outreach.
The majority of the cideries that responded were small startup companies. They reported rapid growth over the last three years, and projected continued growth for the coming three years. These cideries procured over 90 percent of their apples either locally or regionally, and they were willing to pay significantly more per bushel for cider-specific apple varieties compared with varieties grown for eating fresh. They were not particularly concerned with the cosmetic appearance of the fruit.
Survey respondents employed a broad range of packaging and marketing strategies. Though there was no clear consensus about how cider should be marketed, most cideries aimed to differentiate themselves from larger companies that produce primarily sweet ciders.
The greatest challenges and industry constraints identified through the survey revolved around financing, marketing and distribution. In particular, cider makers were interested in information about perceptions of cider among retailers, distributors, chefs and bar owners; consumer willingness to pay for cider; and successful business practices in the cider industry. On the whole, cider makers highly ranked the need for research or new information on several topics, suggesting that these companies could benefit from increased engagement from relevant research and educational institutions.