Cider house rules

Bulmers of Clonmel, owned by one of Ireland’s largest drinks companies, C&C, is a leading long alcoholic drinks (LADs) company with strong positions in the UK and Irish market

Bulmers Original Vintage Cider is a brand of cider produced in Ireland by Bulmers of Clonmel, a company formed in Clonmel, County Tipperary by local man William Magner. To prevent confusion with the English cider of the same name, it is sold outside the Republic of Ireland as Magners Original Irish Cider in honour of its founder.

After assuming forming the company in 1935, William Magner quickly established a successful business and joined forces with the famous English cider-makers H.P. Bulmer and Company. In 1949, Magner withdrew from the business and the Bulmers name came to the fore. H.P. Bulmer maintained international rights to the Bulmers trademark, preventing the Irish company exporting the brand from Ireland.

The tremendous success of Bulmers cider in Ireland led to the development of Magners Cider. Bulmers believed that the international growth of Irish pubs provided a natural market for a traditional Irish drink such as Magners. The label is identical to Bulmers and is traditionally served over ice. Initially only available in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the brand saw its popularity increase significantly in recent years and is now available across the UK, Europe, Australia and the United States.

“Today, Bulmers Limited is an employer of more than 600 people and last year alone produced around 200 million litres of cider,” explains Peter Chambers, Bulmers manufacturing director. “Based in Clonmel, we own the rights to produce and sell the Bulmers Original Vintage Cider brand in the Republic of Ireland. Outside the country, the brand is sold as Magners Original Irish Cider to avoid confusion with the English cider of the same name.”

He continues: “Magners is identical to Bulmers in the Republic of Ireland and its branding, packaging and promotional strategy is based on the marketing approach that has been so successful for the Bulmers brand in Ireland. We developed the Magners brand name in 1999 when we decided to apply our successful development strategy to export.

“On the international stage, Magners has proven to be a real hit and has gone from strength to strength. It is now the number one packaged cider brand in Great Britain. Last year alone, for instance, wegrew by 280 per cent, which is incredible. Magners is now available in many markets around the world, including as far away as the United States and Australia.”

Bulmers has been the fastest growing drinks brand in Ireland since the mid 1990s. The Bulmers pint bottle is the biggest selling bottle of any beer or cider in Ireland and, as a result per capita consumption of cider in Ireland is now the highest in the world.

After ten years of committed and consistent brand support, the Bulmers brand grew from three per cent to over ten per cent of the beer and cider market. The current marketing strategy, which started in the late 1980s, has re-created Bulmers Original Vintage Cider as a market leader. In one of the most successful brand repositioning campaigns ever undertaken in the Irish marketplace, Bulmers of Clonmel has completely altered consumer perceptions towards cider.

Tradition, heritage and naturalness are the core of the brand and have made it the success it is today. Despite growth, Bulmers of Clonmel continues to emphasise that ‘quality takes time’, a strategy that has helped so many of its brands achieve success. What’s more, with so much growth coming from outside the traditional cider market, the company is clearly set to introduce Irish cider to many more consumers around the world.

“The dynamics of our business have changed considerably in recent years and we are ambitious to grow the Magners brand even further,” adds Peter. “We are currently exploring the possibility of expanding our Spanish market share, particularly in Barcelona, as well as launching the brand in Germany, focusing on Munich. We are looking at these test markets and will determine whether the local people will give the brand the traction it would require for a national role out. At the moment our strategy has been to send Magners into the Costa’s in Spain and the Irish bars in Germany, which has been very positive.”

The current TV advertising for Bulmers in Ireland, and Magners in International markets, is extremely successful and seasons. They show a brief shot of an orchard in seasonal conditions (bare and snow covered in winter, lush and green with sunny skies in summer) at the start of the advert, and then how people enjoy the drink during these seasons (by a warm fire in winter, out in the warm sun during summer).

“Our strategy is to advertise very heavily and allow the consumer to demand it through the trade and to pull it through,” says Peter. “This has proven to be very successful for us and we have enjoyed increasing sales over the last 12 months as a result. Major sporting events and fantastic weather, also helped and the brand has grown considerably.

“Due to the growth we have had, we needed to invest heavily in our facilities in order to cope with the ever-growing demand for our cider. This investment gives us a platform for further expansion, and we are eager to enjoy yet more success with the Magners brand. We invested in two new, state-of-the-art, highspeed 50,000 bottles per hour bottling lines and upgraded numerous pieces of equipment we have here onsite. For instance, we have built 250 fresh juice maturation tanks and increased the filtration capacity.”

He continues: “We produce a lot more than just Bulmers/Magners – we also have the successful Linden Village cider, Samsons cider and Ritz Crisp Dry Perry brands. The investment will allow us to increase the volume in these brands, as well.”

The Bulmers Vat House in Dowd’s Lane was commissioned in 1936, with the majority of Vats built in oak, handcrafted by coopers. The apple pressing is done using the traditional ‘cheese’ and is one of the core skills of a cider-maker. At Bulmers, the very same presses used to make Bulmers 50 years ago are still used today This accounts for the consistency in quality of Ireland’s most popular cider. The production of cider is a simple, traditional process, based on natural ingredients  A lot of time, care and labour are put into the making of cider, from the time the apples are harvested, to achieving the end product. Bulmers Original Cider is fermented in the Vat House between 18 degrees and 24 degrees Celsius for a period of eight weeks. The fermentation process in the oak vats provides the distinctive and unique Bulmers taste.

“Bulmers Original Irish Cider is Ireland’s biggest purchaser of Irish apples,” explains Peter. “The entire harvest from Bulmers’ 250 acres of orchards, together with the total harvest of cull apples in the Republic of Ireland plus a substantial portion of Northern Ireland’s crop, is required for the Bulmers cider products.

“Seventeen varieties of apple are grown in the Bulmers’ Orchards in Clonmel and are used to make the famous Bulmers brand. The 17 varieties of apple mature at different times of the season, thus allowing the orchard managers to pace the harvest and produce sufficient varieties to make up a traditional blend like Bulmers, throughout the year.”

Perhaps the biggest, and most successful, development in the history of Bulmers of Clonmel is the iced pint of cider. Indeed, this innovation is argued by many to be the biggest in the cider market for over a decade. Drinking cider over ice mirrors the move towards chilled and ‘extra-cold’ beers, and the success of this innovation has led to competitors to introduce ‘Sirrus’ brands as a response. The launch also prompted Scottish & Newcastle, the owners of H.P. Bulmer, to relaunch Bulmers Original in the UK in an attempt to take some of the market share away from Magners.

“We have a fantastic new product development team here in Clonmel, who are always looking at the possibility of new innovations,” comments Peter. “NPD is very important and we are very strict in our adherence to it. The process is exhausting and only the best products will make it through. In this respect, those products that are successful in the NPD process generally go on to achieve considerable success in the market place. For instance, we successfully launched a low calorie brand extension to Bulmers Original Irish cider called Bulmers Light and of course cider over ice is perhaps our greatest invention.”

Bulmers of Clonmel is a real Irish success story – the company has transformed the cider market, both domestically and internationally, and is well placed to capitalise on current growth opportunities. Taking up this point, Peter continues: “We are market leaders in Ireland and have about 10.6 per cent of the long alcoholic drinks market, which is a huge phenomenon. Cider is around two per cent of the LAD market as a category in Great Britain and last year that grew by 20 per cent. The LAD market is a tough market, which has lots of competitors, so we are under pressure. But, cider within LAD is a growing market and so the challenge for us is capitalise on the opportunities open to us.

“We have a great product,” Peter adds. “It is a fruity, natural product that has stood the test of time. Consumers like the Bulmers/Magners product and we support them with what we believe is a very good and sustained marketing approach, built on the heritage and values of our product around the seasons of the year.”

He concludes: “How will we develop? Well, if we’d have been sat here this time last year after 280 per cent growth then we would have been amazed. That situation has changed slightly now; we had the three wettest months ever recorded in May, June and July and as we recruit a lot of our customer base through the summer, this will undoubtedly affect us. We have had a bit of a stalling year but we are going to come out fighting and our strategy is to become a global brand in the future.”