UK cider sales are closing on beer, thanks in part to product innovation and greater marketing spend for brewers, Mintel says.

Figures from the consumer analysts Mintel show cider has bucked the economic climate that saw many lager brands including Carlsberg and Heineken report flat UK sales in 2012. Three in five adults now drink cider, a 47 per cent increase on the figure in 2011. While it still trails beer, which is drunk by 70 per cent of Britons, cider is consumed by a greater number of adults than spirits (57 per cent).

Cider sales have soared 32 per cent between 2007 and 2012 to reach £2.7bn, with sales increasing 5 per cent in the last year alone. Volume sales have posted slower growth, although the market still managed overall growth of 18 per cent over the same period. Over the next five years Mintel predicts the category will reach sales of £3.7bn, driven partly by duty increases and rising brand awareness.

Growth has been buoyed the entry of brands such as Strongbow and Stella Cidre Pear variants into the favoured cider segment, alongside brewers investing in marketing to make cider a year round drink rather than focusing on the summer months only. Traditional beer brewers’ such as Molson Coors with its Carling British Cider variant and Carlsberg’s Somersby drink have made moves into the category in recent months.

Chris Wisson, senior drinks analyst at Mintel says brewers need to invest more in the premium end of the market to reap “spectacular rewards”. Areas ripe for product development include the premium end of the market with more emphasis on medium and dry cider to boost daily consumption rates and attract older drinkers, he adds.

Just 8 per cent of Britons think that cider is sophisticated, while only 14 per cent believe that it is worth paying more for, both of which are behind the associations with wine.

Wisson says: “While cider enjoys a range of positive associations among drinkers, such as being refreshing, natural and suitable for men and women, sophistication is an area where there is significant room for improvement. The cider market has improved its image greatly over the past decade and should continue working to evolve away from unfavourable historical associations such as those with underage and binge drinking, and towards being a sophisticated drink to be seen with.”