The State of the American Cider Industry in 2020

The United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) has released new data on industry growth and areas of decline as well as a rebrand to the American Cider Association. The Portland-based Executive Director of the industry trade group – Michelle McGrath shared some insight into the past few years and thoughts on the future.

American Cider Association

“Cider is a grassroots industry, but it generates over a billion dollars in annual sales. We’re ready for the next evolution of our trade association,” said McGrath when announcing the groups new name and logo. “Cidermakers will always be our #1 audience, but Congress is rising in importance. Lobbying with our old name was challenging. People often found it confusing, and you lost them about halfway through. It was long! American Cider Association is much more straightforward.”


USACM executive director Michelle Mcgrath

2019 was a rough year for the cider industry, Hard Seltzer’s took a big bite out of sales as it appeals to a similar market. This is all coming off of 2017 which was a good year defined by growth that lead into 2018’s big rosé trend in cider and beer.

Nielsen sales data has been a mixed bag for the cider industry. Sales for hard cider have grown overall since 2017 with off-premise sales up 6% from 3rd quarter 2017 to 3rd quarter 2019. Much of that increase is credited to new and quite possibly unsustainable trends like rosé.

The rosé success of 2018 was an anomaly, and the come down from the trend is minor noise in the big picture,” says McGrath in an industry newsletter. “The cider category marches upward–sustainably.”

Hard Seltzer and other light and more health focused alcoholic beverages like the hard kombucha’s and teas likely pushed back the upwards cider trajectory in 2019. Nielsen shows off-premise cider sales declined -3.9% last year during the 52-week period ending on 11/30/19. The American Cider Association also has good news from 2019:

  • Regional brand off-premise sales grew 15%
  • Regional brand off-premise market share of the cider category grew from 29.4% for 2018 to 34% as of 11/30/19. (Dollar share)
  • online sales through the vendor VinoShipper increased 9% in 2019.

McGrath points out that while the media and naysayers like to focus on the closures, there is still double-digit growth in regional brands in all cider flavors except pear. McGrath predicts 2020 will be a similar year for hard cider with continuation of the current trends. Certainly the flavored ciders using fruit other than apples or pears is continuing to be popular and we have even seen the hazy trend jumping to cider.

“Threats to our market share right now are fueled by a consumer desire for a drink that is refreshing, healthful, and light,” writes McGrath in her industry report. “Those three characters describe cider to a T. Somewhere cider lost that as part of our messaging, so this is an opportunity to remind people that cider is just that, and even better, it’s made from apples.”

“Today, gluten-free is a common lifestyle, and cider continues to benefit from it. But cider is not just gluten-free. It’s light, crisp, refreshing, often low in or sugar free, and versatile,” says McGrath.

To remind consumers how natural and refreshing cider is, the cider association is highlighting 0g residual sugar ciders in January.

“We’re calling it Dry Cider January and we will be promoting the hashtag #pickdrycider,” says McGrath. “Our goal is to gain the attention of health-oriented consumers. Do you make a 0g residual sugar cider?” If you make a cider that qualifies, let them now so that they can include it on their list. 

The health-focused, light and bubbly malt beverage category does not look to be easing up in 2020, in fact it’s likely to grow. The cider industry is looking to focus on maintaining the category and possibly to even grow it. Similar to craft beer, McGrath recommends more direct-to-consumer strategies like maintaining a taproom or even shipping product direct from online sales.

The American Cider Association will be addressing all of these issues and much more at the annual Cider Con in Oakland, CA this January 28-31st,

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion