The family apple tree is branching out across the pond. Martin Thatcher has overseen the continued success of Thatchers in England as a fourth-generation cider maker (the company was founded in Somerset, England in 1904). As Thatchers’ managing director, he is now guiding the company’s entrance into the American market for the first time in 111 years.
SW: What will differentiate your ciders in the U.S. market?
I think our ciders are quite different than the types currently available in America. What we’re offering is something that’s easily accessible and sessionable. Our ciders are not too sweet or cloying. There’s a genuine quality about them. They’re quite a lot different than domestic ciders.
SW: How do you plan to enter the American market?
We’ve been looking to export into this market for quite some time. We’ve had a fantastic tie-in with Coopers Brewery Limited in Australia. Our cider has been very strong in Australia, so America was the next logical move. The timing of our arrival is good, with the cider market doing so well over here. Good planning or good luck: it’s a little bit of both.
We’ve received a lot of support on the distribution level. We’ve been visiting distributors, sampling them with our products and educating them on cider and our brands. We’re doing sampling programs on a consumer-level.
We’ve gone to a few festivals, which is a great way to reach the consumers who are looking to try new brands. And it’s interesting to meet American craft cider-makers and see how they’re manufacturing and what they’re trying with their ciders.
Only our Gold will be available for now; that’s our number-one product. I think it’s important to start with just one so that everyone can get on the same page and test the market, and then we’ll work out the next brand. Back in Somerset we have a whole raft of brands to choose from. It’s just a matter of working out what should come next.
SW: How will you decide what to add to the portfolio next?
Cider can have so many different flavor profiles that you can usually find a cider to match everyone’s taste. If you like the high tannin-ness of wines, then there’s our Rosé, which is light and fruity and perhaps more for the female market. If the market favors something more robust and strong, we have that as well. Our Vintage 2014, which is 7.5% ABV, is now ready for sale. Our Old Rascal is fun and flavorful. Our Green Goblin is a bit more challenging than the Gold, since the tannins come through more.
Whether a drinker is into craft beer, wine, Budweiser, Coors, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir, there is a cider to match that taste. It’s just a question of getting people to try great ciders.
SW: What has been your experience with on-premise?
We have to prove to bar owners that we’re worth a tap spot in their bar. In the UK, we’re the number two selling cider behind Strongbow, and Gold sells twice as much as its main competitors. If something is going to take up space on your tap, it may as well be something that sells. And once you have one cider on tap, you may in time move to three taps, because then there’s a range for customers to try.
SW: How do you see the cider market expanding?
I think as a category, cider has a tremendous future. Cider is doing phenomenally well in America. It could become the best market for cider in the world.
As more people join the category, there will be more space for ciders in stores. It becomes an almost self-fulfilling prophecy. All those other ciders in the category, we don’t see them as threats. We see them as helping to expand the category.
In about a month, a bar is going to open up in Manhattan that serves only cider. That’s a big step forward for the market here.