A little more than a year ago Charlie Ostaszewski, a former auditor, told his family he was leaving London to make Apple Cider with a NSW farmer. A strange move perhaps as, unlike in the UK where cider is 13 per cent of the market, cider in Australia is only 2 per cent of the market. However, Ostaszewski had done his homework – cider sales have doubled in Australia in the last quarter of last year, from a year earlier and there are now 118 cider brands in Australia, up from 52 brands in 2010, compared with 300 in the UK.
Last July, Ostaszewski and Batlow apple-grower David Purcell put their heads together – after an unlikely meeting while on holidays in Thailand – to create The Apple Thief, a premium cider made from Batlow apples.

Ostaszewski saw the benefits of creating cider alongside an apple grower – it would give him an edge in a market dominated by products created by brewers and winemakers. He explains that the pair have developed a cider that is crisp, natural and has an authentic apple flavour – as opposed to a lot of the drier, yeastier versions on the market.

“Dave goes out and hand-selects the varieties within Pink Lady to create the perfect product,” Ostaszewski says. “The quality is there because he is using the best varieties.”

And the race is on the get a piece of the fastest-growing category in the alcohol market as consumers become more prepared to experiment with different kinds of food and drink.

As Lion brand director Jon Bradshaw explains, twenty years ago people were either beer drinkers, wine drinkers or spirits drinkers. “Now the same consumer will drink different products depending on the occasion and will choose between a much broader range of brands,” he says. “This allowed a trusted brand like Tooheys to break out of its traditional category and innovate in cider.”

Lion’s Tooheys-branded 5 Seeds launched in 2009 and is now the second biggest cider brand in Australia with 12.4 per cent of the market. Heineken-owned Strongbow is still the nation’s biggest seller with about 40 per cent market share – which is about half of what it used control.

Furthermore, CUB, the domestic beer and cider arm of Foster’s Group, plans to increase its marketing and advertising spending on their cider brands – namely Mercury, Bulmers and Dirty Granny – by $2 million next financial year. And Cider sales at Australia’s largest liquor retailer, Woolworths, have doubled to about $2.5 million a week from a year ago. The supermarket chain now stocks about 50 cider brands at its liquor stores, two years ago they only stocked around 10.

Over the next year The Apple Thief team plan to produce about 2500 cases of cider a month.

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