Cider lovers at the heart of Kent, one of England’s orchard counties, have been enjoying rich flavours from County Armagh, home of the iconic Bramley, which has EU protection, and other juicy apples. In addition, the company is enjoying success there with its fruit drinks and mixers for spirits.
Mark Troughton, Armagh Cider’s marketing director, puts the success in Kent and other parts of Great Britain down to a recent decision by the company to link up with Amazon, the UK’s leading online retailer of food and drink products, ahead of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mark describes the listing for the company’s products by Amazon as “immensely important and a very timely deal, especially in Britain”.
“We hadn’t been very active online before until the virus outbreak led to the closure of the pubs, hotels and restaurants which were major customers, especially for our range of mixers and ciders. We had to strengthen quickly other channels to sell our drinks,” he says.
He continues: “We are now shipping, on average, more than 10 cases a day to Amazon for customers in most parts of Great Britain.
“As a result of the agreement, our online business has grown by more than 25 per cent in the past month.”
Based at Ballinteggart orchard farm, near Portadown, and dating back more than a century, Armagh Cider is owned and run by husband and wife team Philip and Helen Troughton.
The family business is one of the biggest producers in Ireland of ciders and soft drinks, including its successful and innovative Orchard Twist, a crafted non-alcoholic, lightly sparkling apple juice with a twist of flavours.
Orchard Twist is a natural drink with no added sugar, no artificial flavours or colours, is gluten free and can be counted as one of a five-a-day health regime, Mark says.
“In addition, we have developed Raising Spirits, a range of mixers to accompany gin, whiskey and vodka for instance,” he adds.
Armagh Cider is better known, however, for its immensely successful portfolio of ciders, brands such as Madden’s, Carson’s and Doyle’s, as well as natural apple juice and healthy apple cider vinegar. Sales to hotels and restaurants stopped because of the lockdown.
“While we are still supplying ciders to supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s and off sales in Northern Ireland, the Amazon listing has enabled us to develop very significant business in Britain, a market we’ve been targetting for many years.
“And it’s also shown us the tremendous potential of online sales and our products there,” he adds.
The family company, Northern Ireland’s oldest processor of ciders from its own apples, is currently lining up the launch of several new products, including cloudy lemonade and a four-strong range of tonics in larger 500ml bottles.
The four flavours of tonics are orange, lemon, raspberry, and cucumber and lime. The new natural products are developed in-house and free from preservatives and additives. The mixers are marketed under the Raising Spirits label.
“Innovation has always underpinned our business and has seen us diversify from producing award-winning ciders, sparkling and still apple juice and cider vinegar to now include an extensive range of mixers and fruit infused sparkling waters.
“This is the way we stay ahead in our highly competitive marketplace,” adds Mark.
The business has become a hotbed of smart ideas and successful innovation.
“County Armagh is known to be the home of apple growing in Northern Ireland. But until we introduced ‘Carson’s Crisp’ in 2006, Armagh was the only apple-growing area in the UK without its own cider producers,” he continues.
The progressive business, a Food NI member, also operates a successful contract bottling operation for other producers onsite at Portadown.
The small farm-based company has since gained a host of awards, including UK Great Taste Awards, Blas na hEireann gold and from international competitions for its ciders.
In addition, Armagh Cider picked up medals at the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition, held in Michigan, and from the Royal Bath and West Society Show.
A partnership with Green Isle Foods in the Republic to create craft cider batter haddock fillets led to outstanding success in the influential Irish Quality Food Awards.
It also gained quality awards for its AJ Apple Juice and Madden’s Mellow Armagh Cider.
Before the cider business was launched, apples grown on the farm were originally sold for retail and to the biggest cider producer in the Republic of Ireland.
The history of cider making in the north of Ireland stretches back to 1682. The first Bramley apples were planted in Armagh in 1884.
The orchards throughout Armagh produce more than 400,000 tonnes of Bramley apples annually. The crop is sold for retail, catering and for cider production in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Upwards of 140 growers are engaged in the industry. The apples have a sharper, tarter taste than those grown in England. The family farm has also been home to a hugely successful sport horse breeding and stud business for over 20 years.
In addition, the business has developed popular orchard tours which also enable visitors to see how the drinks are made and sample the richly flavoured products.