There has been a lot of conversation lately about labels, packaging and container choices, so I thought I’d throw my opinionated hat into the ring so to speak. What’s really interesting to me about cider is that there is tremendous variation in the styles that different makers use from bottles to cans to pouches, not to mention BiB (Bag in Box) or keg. With fully printed wraparound labels, little tied on ones or hand written ones. Logo-focused, traditional pictures of fruit or orchards, or even artwork deliberately created for a specific product. Within all of that you will find something that appeals to every eye, and that is why I think on the whole it shouldn’t change. Sure certain styles and choices will not appeal to certain groups, ages or individuals (not that I want to perpetuate stereotypes here), but as Groove Armada point out “if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other”.
If you listened to George Poole’s interview on the Neutral Cider Hotel a few weeks ago, he gave a really interesting insight into cider labels and his thoughts on the direction of travel. I have to agree with him on some of the brilliant labels out there at the moment that stand out on the shelves in what is, lets face it, a very competitive market. Especially if you’re trying to lure drinkers from other categories. However, that’s not what every cider maker is trying to do and that should be recognised. One of the things I’ve noticed with craft beer, is that the shelves are littered with cans that all look the same and are all equally busy. If we say that cider should do the same, they’ll just get lost on the shelves. Many makers have got into cider because they’re passionate about it and that frequently translates forward into their labels. Maybe it’s a picture of the apple because they love the fruit or their dog’s beautiful face because it’s their orchard or cider making companion. Honestly that probably does have a fairly narrowish window of appeal [Ed: it shouldn’t because dogs are the greatest], but if that’s what they want to share and it works for them, then you know what I salute that and can totally appreciate it, I’d love to put Indy on a label. Plus a huge number of the mainstream biggest selling ciders in the world have a plain black or brown label with an apple on them. What really matters is what’s in the bottle right?
Well yes, but what there isn’t any place for is sexist or misogynistic labelling. It doesn’t matter if it’s the greatest cider ever made if the label features a lack of clothes or a name that draws on some sexist pun. It might be a joke in the makers eyes and there may be many who will find it funny, but there will also be many that are offended and why would anybody want to offend any of their potential customers? After all cider making does not make one a millionaire, but more importantly what happened to just being kind? It shocks me that despite the age we live in and the progress humanity has made, people are still marginalised. In the sea of all the intolerance and prejudice that people deal with on a daily basis, at work, at home, in the street, why would anyone want to make a product that’s designed to be a social lubricant, but instead makes people feel small, or alone?
What I think is still being forgotten, is the information on the labels. We need ingredients, we need tasting notes and we need serving suggestions (e.g. food matching and temperature). If we truly want to burst the misconception that all cider is the same and only comes in three levels of sweetness or different fruit flavours, then we have to start talking about more. I look on bottle shops regularly to see what’s new and still we have ciders being described as sweet, medium or dry. Which would be ok along with the apple or pear varieties and/or, the flavours to expect (see our apple and pear varieties by taste) as that would help consumers to understand differences within this enormous category. After all people expecting a cider apple blend would be very surprised if they got one made from eating apples, but that could easily happen as both sit side by side on the shelf and both are just called “medium cider”.
Not only will that help improve the knowledge and understanding for consumers and help them make a more informed choice, but it will also start to increase the value perception. Let’s face it cider is (on the whole) drunk like beer, despite being made like wine. We don’t have minimum unit pricing in England, so why should a large bottle of cider cost less then an equivalent quantity of wine? Just because the grapes had more sugar in them doesn’t mean they are worth more does it? Both apples and grapes are pressed, fermented, etc. and in many cases the effort, time and skill is similar, so why shouldn’t the pricing? I think we have a deep-rooted belief that higher alcohol equals higher price, and we need to get past that. We’re not all making farm gate cider anymore, the drink has moved on. Sure people still want to make a cheaper, no frills drink, and that’s fine, variety is what makes cider so widely appealing. But we shouldn’t scoff at those that want to innovate, improve and as a consequence charge more. Not the best analogy but there are many car makers out there, some focus solely on the more affordable basic vehicles, others only make the luxurious end of the spectrum and some make a bit of both, as is true in cider. If I can only afford a Dacia, I don’t hate Ferrari, even though I’d love to own one. I don’t think cars should have stayed a working family transport which only came in one colour, black, like the Model T, I appreciate the growth and innovation. If one day I can afford a Ferrari, then I’ll buy one and relish in enjoying it way more than the Dacia. Deep down I know they both basically do the same thing in getting me from A to B, but one is going to do it a lot faster, is built from much more expensive parts and lets face it, looks gorgeous.
So to all you consumers, don’t judge a bottle by it’s cover but demand more information and to all you makers, please put it on your diverse and inspiring labels.