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The UK has long been a hot spot for craft breweries, with the number of active craft brewing companies rising surpassing 2,000 by 2019. However, the craft cider industry has lagged behind.
Cranes is bridging a gap in the market with its line of all-natural ciders that boast full flavour without compromising on health. The brand recently secured its title as the UK’s fastest growing cider company.
We sat down with co-founder Benjamin Ritsema to talk about how the business first came about, and how this funding round will help drive growth.
What is Cranes all about?
A while ago, myself and Daniel (co-founder) settled on a very ambitious goal: to become the third largest fruit cider company in the UK. With every passing year, this goal looks less ambitious and more achievable in light of our current growth trajectory.
What encouraged you to build the company?
We both enjoyed a drink while at university, most notably cider, but have always been conscious of our health. It’s no secret that most existing fruit ciders on the market are laden with sugar, so we quickly realised there was demand for a healthier alternative.
Cranes ciders utilise the natural sugars which come from superfruits to power its three flavours: Blueberries & Apples; Cranberries & Limes and Raspberries & Pomegranates. Each beverage contains 30% fewer calories and 40% less sugar than brand leaders, which is the key differentiator we’re bringing to market.
Was this the career path you had always envisioned taking?
I never had a set career path when I was younger, but I’ve always found business fascinating. We both set up various businesses when we were kids. I set up a car washing business and Daniel started gardening. Daniel further developed his gardening business when he was 16 which saw him through his gap year and university. When I was 18, I moved into the e-commerce space and set up a website for cufflinks. We’ve both always had very entrepreneurial spirits, so starting a venture together was a natural development.
What changes in consumer behaviour have you witnessed during the Covid-19 crisis and how is Cranes equipped to meet them?
The biggest change to consumer behaviour is an obvious one. More people are purchasing their alcohol from off-trade sources over on-trade ones (pubs and bars) while the UK is under lockdown. With the majority of our distribution in supermarkets, the increase in our off-trade distribution couldn’t have been more timely. We now have 3,081 distribution points with a captive audience. So despite these challenging times, the outcome has been very positive for us.
Social media engagement as a whole is also up 38%, so we shifted our focus there as well as in off-trade in-store marketing, and reduced our focus and budgets on events and festivals.
What differentiates Cranes from other craft cider brands?
The cider market to date has been relatively stale, with ‘craft’ brands being created primarily by multinational companies in attempts to monopolise the space. Cranes is an authentic craft cider with a real brand story, which is what consumers always want when buying local and supporting up-and-coming brewers.
We’re also catering to a new consumer base that has a greater appreciation for their health and wellbeing than ever before. Sugar-filled fruit ciders no longer have the same allure as they once did. In fact according to our research, 34% of UK adults have avoided drinking cider in the last three months because it’s either too sweet or too calorific. The USA is at the forefront of these health-conscious trends, with low calorie alcohol brands booming, and low-calorie hard seltzer products flying off the shelves. It’s only a matter of time before we see a huge swing toward low calorie alcohol drinks in the UK as well, and we’ll be ready to capitalise on that demand.
Being naturally light, Cranes cider doesn’t use artificial sweeteners to achieve lower calorie count. Plus, our blind taste test proves that we win over sugar-filled rivals on the taste front. 64% of those surveyed preferred Cranes.
What exciting products/initiatives do you have upcoming in the pipeline?
Just before the pandemic we were about to launch our apple cider on keg to penetrate the on-trade market. It’s a premium, great-tasting, naturally crisp cider with 100% fresh apple juice and was driven by three key factors:
Firstly, simplicity. Pubs and bars like to keep things simple and stick to a single cider supplier. Only having one fruit cider makes securing listings more challenging. Having an apple cider will open doors and soon we’ll be able to supply the apple and fruit cider as a duo.
Secondly, it would help us to capitalise on consumer trends. Less people are buying from the fridge, as buying from kegs or on top becomes increasingly popular, but space for fruit cider on keg is minimal. Having an apple cider offering would make this possible.
Lastly, an apple cider would increase brand visibility. Only a small proportion of bars have fruit cider on keg and even fewer do so all year round. Releasing an apple cider would give us the opportunity to supply customers on tap all year around, to supercharge brand visibility, and boost sales of bottles in the fridge and in supermarkets.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from your customers?
We do many events every year, which is a fantastic way to create brand experience, sample and collect our customers’ thoughts. At the end of the day they are the ones buying our ciders and they’ve really helped shape the taste profile of our products. Over a three year period, when we were developing our recipe, we were using consumer feedback to help adapt and improve. This is undoubtedly why our product tastes so great now.
What’s your favourite flavour?
It’s got to be the blueberries and apples, I love blueberries and that flavour has such a lovely blueberry kick. Our ciders are refreshing and cleanse the palate nicely. So they really enhance whatever you eat. My personal favourite is to enjoy a Cranes cider alongside a barbecued meal.
What’s your top survival tip for UK lockdown?
In these unusual times, having a positive mindset is important. I’ve found that yoga really helps achieve that, helping you to relax both body and mind. It’s also important to remember that all this is temporary. Life will get back to normal.
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