Traditional cidermakers fear impact of minimum pricing
The fast-growing traditional cider industry has criticised the Government's decision to crackdown on cheap alcohol without discussions with producers.
Writing in today's Western Morning News, Paul Bartlett, new chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers, says minimum alcohol pricing "threatens the progress" of the £2.7 billion sector.
In March, the Government announced that it planned to impose a 40p per unit floor price in an effort to clamp down on cheap alcohol fuelling binge drinking.
It is estimated a cheap three-litre bottle of strong, supermarket-sold cider could double in price, potentially reducing the practice of "pre-loading" before going out to pubs.
But the cider industry fears "artificial distortion" of the market which could hit high-quality artisan products.
Mr Bartlett made the warning at the lobbying group's reception in Westminster, attended by MPs.
Writing afterwards, he said: "Decisions taken without consultation, like on minimum unit pricing, create unrest and uncertainty. This threatens the progress cider might make."
Premium ciders now account for 20% of the total market, double their share of the cider category compared with a decade ago.
The sector is a key component of the rural economy in the South West.
Mr Bartlett added the sector's progress was "fragile" in recent years, and called for "stability and certainty on duty".
He said: "A combination of punitive duty increases and the economic downturn has restricted what we might have achieved."
In its final Budget, Labour had to row back from plans to increase duty on all cider by 10% above inflation, despite wanting to end "favouritism" shown to the traditional Westcountry drink.
While the coalition has avoided similar moves, the industry has been hit by increases to all alcohol duty and the increase in VAT.
Mr Bartlett went on: "When duty on cider was frozen a few years back, the investment and innovation of cidermakers meant the cider market increased by 53%.
"This expanded orchard planting, increased consumer choice and also significantly increased the contribution cider made to government revenues."
But a "certainty on policy" would allow for further growth. He said: "Cider- makers have shown through a combination of resilience, innovation and investment that the industry can succeed and flourish at home and increasingly in export markets."
The industry has also been buffeted by four successive poor summers and the increasing incidence of extreme weather.