This episode of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show — episode #004 — is the second of a two-part series about Tom Oliver, founder, owner and cider and perry maker-in-chief of Oliver’s Cider and Perry. Oliver’s Cider and Perry is based in Herefordshire, England, the heart of English cider-making territory.
I recommend you listen to part 1 (episode #003) before you listen to this episode. In part 1, Tom talks about branding, the importance of innovating and naming (cider) products. In this episode, part 2, Tom talks about sales streams, the challenges of distribution for artisan producers, exporting, scaling up and how he gets value from social media.
Listen Now to Tom Oliver’s Episode of the Show:
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If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #004: Oliver’s Cider and Perry Part 2, Sales Streams, Distribution, Exporting and Scaling Up. You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
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Key Points From the Show
- Events such as food fairs, festivals, country shows and farmers’ markets can be excellent for building your brand (e.g., for getting PR), especially if you don’t have an advertising budget. However, remember that some events are profitable and some are not. Think carefully about re-attending events that enable you only to break even.
- Distribution is expensive and therefore impacts your bottom line. It’s also fundamental to your operations. Spend time researching your distribution options and try to have a fall-back plan in place.
- Many pubs, delicatessens and off-licences have severely limited storage. This means they won’t be able to stock your products in volume, which will make your distribution to them inefficient and therefore expensive.
- Ultimately, any food or drink production business needs volume production to make a profit.
- Social media is a useful tool in many ways. Even if you loathe it you should engage with it because it’s where the majority of your customers hang out.
- The growth of internet users using a mobile device such as a smartphone is exploding. Now, the majority — 60% — of all website traffic is on a tablet or smartphone. If your website is not mobile-friendly, you are losing out. This is an excellent post from HubSpot that shows you how you can prepare for Google’s new mobile search algorithm.
Very Sound Bites From Tom Oliver
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Tom Oliver during the show.
Thanks to Tom for generously agreeing to come on the show and talk about his business success and his wonderful ciders and perrys. To connect with Tom online and to find out where you can buy his ciders and perrys (I highly recommend his cider Shezam) check out the Links and Resources section next.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Show
- Oliver’s Cider and Perry website
- Tom Oliver on Twitter
- Oliver’s Cider and Perry on Facebook
- Oliver’s Cider and Perry on Instagram
- Ludlow Food and Drink Festival
- Alice Churchward, The Real Al Company
- The Black Country
- King’s Norton Farmers’ Market
- APC Couriers
- Shelton Brothers
- Franklin County Cider Days
- Rocky Mountain Cider Association
- The Big Apple
- Slainte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. To find out more about and buy this wonderful book visit the authors’ websites: Caroline Hennessy and Kristen Jensen.
Update: Champagne, Eat Your Heart Out
The Food Programme, a food and drink radio show from the BBC — or I should say THE food and drink radio show from the BBC — has just published a 6-minute audio short in which Tom Oliver gives a succinct and powerful account of why it would be a good idea to save and savour the perry pear.
Tom’s part in curating and promoting the perry pear and perry itself will become clear in the snippet. He makes a convincing argument for drinking sparkling perry at important ceremonies and celebrations. Well, having gotten married in Ludlow this very day, what can I say except, Champagne… eat your heart out, and Tom Oliver, toast to you.
You can listen to Tom’s audio snippet here.
Thanks for Listening
Thanks for listening to the show. If you are a food or drink producer, or industry professional who would like to appear on the show, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the Contact Form on this website or by tweeting me @FoodDrinkShow.
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Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello, welcome everyone to Episode 4 of the Artisan Food & Drink Business Show; the show where artisan producers tell their story, and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host Catherine Moran. This episode of the show is the second in a two-part conversation I had with Tom Oliver, founder and owner of Oliver’s Cider and Perry. I suggest you go back and listen to that episode, which is Episode 3, before you listen to this episode.
Oliver’s Cider and Perry is an internationally renowned company that makes a range of award winning ciders and perrys. It’s based on the farm deep in the English cider belt in Herefordshire, England.
In this episode Tom talks about sales streams and finding your customers, the challenges of distribution, exporting, scaling up, and how he has found value in social media. Let’s now listen to my conversation with Tom.
Catherine: Moving on from your products could we talk a little bit about your sales streams? For example, I know you do the big festivals; well certainly you do the Ludlow Food and Drink Festival, that’s a big food festival.
Tom: It is. Ludlow, this year, was for us the most successful Ludlow Festival we’ve ever done, and we’ve been going there for over 10 years. It was fantastic. We do what I call the more local food festivals, county shows, etc., but we don’t travel around the country doing them. That’s not because I don’t want to, or I’m not interested in them, it’s just that we haven’t got the time. We don’t have lots of teams of people being able to go out and do it.
We concentrate on what we can do. This year we did an event every weekend, whether it was a one day, two day, or three day event. That was good, some were… all were fun in their own way. Some were very profitable, some were not. We will think very hard next year, about going to the one’s we want to give another chance to, and those that we definitely don’t think we will go to again.
They’re important, as a small producer we have no advertising budget, no way of letting lots of people know about us. One of the best ways we can is get out there face-to-face and get people to try our ciders and perrys and hopefully buy them.
Catherine: Farmers’ markets and food fairs are very good for that sort of thing.
Tom: Certainly food fairs are. Farmers’ markets I’m fascinated by. My gut feeling is I should support them wholeheartedly, and I do. But I have to say historically they have been the hardest area for us to make any real money at. We — time and time again — cover costs. At some stage, covering costs and putting your face about, and letting people know about what you do is all well and good, but you want to see some progress, you want to see it building, and it’s tough. We find the farmers markets very tough.
It may be us. Maybe we’re not doing something right. Maybe it’s just cider and perry, and we do farmers markets in the area. My feeling is that cider and perry would be a far more lucrative opportunity in terms of markets if we were well away from the central production area of Herefordshire.
Catherine: Where cider and perry are arguably taken for granted?
Tom: Very arguably, yes. I think it is taken for granted. I don’t think it’s given the value that it deserves locally. I think historically cider has become one or two ciders locally. That wonderful diversity that exists now, 20 years ago didn’t exist. I think this was over a period of time, this was what did for cider in Herefordshire. There are very few true cider drinkers left. There’s very few pubs, restaurants, hotels that champion cider. The strange thing is that over recently times, in the last year or so, those that do champion cider are doing very, very well.
And I cannot for the life of me understand why, generally, publicans are so reticent to stock local real cider and perry. I know some have issues with being tied, or being pubcos and all that. I appreciate some people maybe can’t actually buy what’s made locally. That in itself is a strange thing, but there are plenty of places that could stock cider and perry; could make good money from stocking cider and perry. Have a unique story, be able to say that this producer is up the road, go and pay him a visit. It’s a missed opportunity for people.
Catherine: I think also that I’m noticing that with beer festivals, local beer festivals. Every pub now, in all the villages, seems to have their own beer festival. Increasingly they’re almost rebranding it as ‘our beer and cider festival’, which I think is very exciting.
Tom: It is. It’s fab. The poor cousin that cider was in the drinks world… we’re now almost on equal footing. We’re almost twin brothers with beer in places. There is an expectation now that alongside a choice of beers will be a choice of ciders. That’s fantastic, because that is very new, that’s something that’s developed over the last 4 or 5 years, and it’s great. Interestingly enough, everyone tries to support their local pubs and ones in the area doing these cider-beer festivals, or beer and cider festivals, whichever way around you want to call it.
The hard thing is for the publican to realise that it’s not really just enough to put on a selection of local ciders, and a selection of local beers. If everybody does just that, every single local cider and perry festival is going to be the same. You’ve still got to have a bit of imagination. What angle are you going to come to it with this year? Are you going to have, I don’t know, have milds or are you going to have pale ales, or you’re going to have dark bitters, or you’re going to have dry ciders, you’re going to have perrys? Just try and give some uniqueness to your offer. I think it will work wonders.
Catherine: Absolutely, you attend some farmers markets; you go to the big local food shows. You were talking there about pubs and hotels. Do you actually supply local pubs and hotels?
Tom: I think we can probably number them on one hand, possibly two hands, but a very, very few I would say. Really, for us, where the biggest potential for us is to find areas of population with higher levels of income, and more opportunities in terms of outlets. I’m really saying London is a prime interest to us. We have a wonderful girl called Alice Churchward who distributes our ciders and perrys in London, as she does for a number of other cider and perry producers in Herefordshire; and also, some beer producers as well.
It’s a fantastic opportunity. She’s been going a year and half I think now. If she didn’t come every Monday for her to pick up whatever her order is we would really miss her now. She’s really establishing a great outlet for us, so that’s fantastic.
Really we need more people prepared to go and directly involve themselves in areas where there’s a potential outlet. Birmingham, I don’t understand why being so close to Birmingham we don’t have somebody with a van taking Herefordshire cider and perry up to pubs in Birmingham. The Black Country is very strong for cider, there’s a lot of interest in it. There’s a great opportunity there. I suppose if I think there’s a great opportunity I should be the man putting someone up there with a van. Maybe I should go on and do it myself.
Catherine: Absolutely, there’s an idea. I used to do the farmers’ market, King’s Norton Farmers Market in Birmingham. I can tell you that you would probably get a very good, very warm reception. People that came to the market… it’s a self-selected group in a way, but they were desperately interested in good food, good cheese, good beer, good any local foods.
Tom: I’m constantly being persuaded that there are some great opportunities in the Black Country, around Birmingham and so forth. I just think yeah, I should get off my backside.
Catherine: As if you haven’t got enough to do.
Tom: That’s one of the things.
Catherine: You’re talking there about distribution and that is one of the banes of food and drink producers lives really; getting the product from A to B in a timely and safe fashion, particularly with a bottled product.
Tom: Distribution is the small producer’s nightmare really. We band around the word ‘cooperative’, we band around the idea of getting together and doing things. It’s better than it used to be. Without wanting to advertise any couriers in particular, but I think there is one that does deserve advertising. We find APC’s service for bottled products to be the best that we’ve ever come across. We’re certainly not the only ones around here; there’s three very large drink producers that all use them as well. That’s a great asset to have.
Once again, I always think the way you determine an asset is if they stop tomorrow would you miss them? Most definitely, if they stopped their service tomorrow we would really miss them. I wouldn’t know where to go to get one of a similar standard.
Having said that, APC, there is lots of room for improvement of course! So that’s great, we’ve benefited too. The idea of being able to ship stuff around the country, or by a pallet is really good. That’s much more possible now. If only pubs and shops, etc., had some storage room, and that’s the real problem we’re up against. A lot of the pubs and delicatessens, off licenses, etc. that we would like to have products in have no ability to store even one pallet, even a mixed pallet of ciders from producers in Herefordshire. There are a few who can, but the vast majority can’t. Space is money, rates, whatever it is, and so I understand. This distribution, this timely distribution, this weekly distribution, there’s still an awful lot that can be done.
Catherine: Talking about distribution now, how are you getting on with your U.S.A. sales?
Tom: We are in what I call a sort of tick over mode with America. We started many years ago, before most other people had sent anything to America. We established a fantastic linkage with some beer importers over there called Shelton Brothers, who championed the sort of esoteric and left field beers from Europe and taking them to America. At some stage they decided that they would like to try cider. We became the cider that they alighted on, which is fantastic for us, and has helped to establish us, I think, in America in an incredibly small way.
When I think that we’re unknown in the U.K., I don’t know how you can divide unknown even further, but we’re really unknown in America. We’re able to send some cider and perry over; we’re able to send increasing amounts over there. The market for cider and perry has escalated in the last four years from virtually unheard of, or completely confused with apple juice, hence they call alcoholic cider out there ‘hard cider’. Apple juice is called ‘sweet cider’, that’s already confusing… yes?
So we’ve been making slow progress there, but what’s really helping things now is that cider is being made in an ever-increasing number of places, by an ever-increasing number of people. Out in America they’re planting true cider varieties in order to get some tannins etc., into their ciders. Its boom time for cider in America, and I hope that we can maintain our position as being one of the small contributors of cider and perry from the U.K. to the America market.
For me, one of the ways that I can get most benefit out of it is by going over there. The beginning of November I head over for week, and I go to Franklin County Cider Days, which is two day festival in Massachusetts. Then I go to Colorado for three days to meet with the Rocky Mountain Cider Makers Association, and do some talks and tastings there.
Then I go to Los Angeles, where Shelton Brothers have their annual festival this year. I went two years ago when it was in Worcester, Massachusetts. Missed last year, and then I can go again this year, so I get to spend a couple of days in Los Angeles, where we do the most intense talking and pouring, which is what they call getting a little taste of that. I’ve never more shattered than after the second session of that, seemingly talking endlessly for eight hours. It’s gruelling and exhausting, but you meet people. You hopefully impress people with your products. Someone bounces up to you and shakes you by the hand and says, ‘Oh Tom love your cider.’ I sell it in Las Vegas, and you just go ‘okay. I think it was worth the trip here, just to meet the bloke that’s flogging your cider in Las Vegas.’
Catherine: Absolutely wonderful, and a terrific opportunity for marketing and networking with the powers that be, and the important people in the cider and perry world.
Tom: It is, and also, you get to be with lots of producers who are the same size as you. Selling stuff, trying to sell stuff, they share the same problems as you do, and it can be very uplifting. Also, it can actually reveal some of the ways that we can all help each other. I find these events fantastic. You can’t do too many of them. It’s shattering and it takes you away from the day-to-day job that you have, which is to make cider and perry; very uplifting, energising, and great for coming out with lots of ideas.
Catherine: I keep coming back to the innovation idea. It’s clearly really important. Just a couple more questions Tom before we finish up. A quick question; you’re active on social media: you’ve got a website, you’ve got a fantastic Facebook presence. I’m going to hazard a guess here, but I reckon you are writing your own website, and you do your own Facebooking and Twittering, don’t you?
Tom: I do. I do my own Facebook, I do my own Twitter. I have up until now, with the help of a good friend, Alan Kitchen, done my own website. But generally, I’m of the opinion now, and I’m so fed up with e-mails of people offering to get my SEO up and to do my website, this, that, and t’other. I keep saying though ‘just one more week, I just want to do these, change these photographs, I want to change these words’.
I’ve got a very good lad, Chris Clinton, who’s doing me a website that I can update my own shop, my own this, my own that, with a lot more ease than I can do my own website at the moment. I’m about to launch a new one. I would love to say that it will be up and running by the time you hear this podcast, but I’m not going to say anything, because it may not be up. I’m always a little more… I thought it would be quick and easy, and I thought I would be the one that would be on top of it.
What’s happened of course, is that Chris is ready for me to go, and I’m going oh no, I just want to do this. I need to get my … in gear again and get this website up. I find social media, I find internet, I find it very useful. There are potential downsides, and I have myself suffered a few of the downsides of being on the internet, as it were. Most of the time the plusses far outweigh the minuses, and I enjoy it.
I find it a great way, much like the chap in Las Vegas who stops at my cider, or banters up to me at the Shelton’s Festival when I’m in L.A. On a nightly basis you can get a tweet from somebody who’s just drunk one of your ciders and they’re in Madison, Wisconsin. You’re thinking, ‘oh that’s fantastic’. I now have a much clearer idea of once it leaves; they have a marvelous three tier distribution system in America. I have no idea where my ciders and perrys end up, frequently.
The only way I found out recently that we’ve even arrived in Kansas was because somebody tweeted, and sent me a picture of some bottles on a shelf in an off license equivalent of in Kansas. Lots of good of good things to be said about the twittering world.
Catherine: It brings you closer to your customers, and brings the customer closer to the producer of their wonderful drink.
Tom: As close as most customers of mine probably want to get.
Catherine: Will your web domain, your website address be the same as it currently is?
Tom: It will be, yes, yes. There’s no dramatic change; all the addresses will remain the same. It’s that the content will be, and actually what we’ve done, I think we’re simplifying it a bit. We’re going to try and make it so that it keeps everyone happy. Everybody seems to want different things out of the internet. We all seem to, as I’m reliably informed now… most people seem to view the internet through their phone, or their iPad or whatever. The only time people actually look at the internet, or your cider and perry website, on a full computer will be when they’re at work.
I’m not quite sure what that says about use of computers at work. Everything has to be friendly for these smaller screens and all that. All these things you have to take into account. I find it fascinating now that the likelihood is that there’s me putting what I think are fantastic photographs I’ve taken over the years of wonderful Hereford cattle, and these beautiful old perry pear orchards with the blossom and hedges. The young trees and the newly planted trees, and the old decaying trees, it’s fantastic there. It looks brilliant on the screen.
Then I realise that people are probably squinting at something that’s the equivalent to an inch by an inch on their phone. They won’t be getting anything like the value out of the picture that I’m thinking about. So, yeah, you have to adjust your mindset a bit.
Catherine: It’s very much the way forward and mobile; it’s what it’s going to be all about. You’re probably looking at thumbnail size images. At least people will be looking. It’s better than not looking at all, isn’t it?
Tom: It’s a fantastic thing, because once again, it gives people access and information about you and your products that they’d not have a chance of finding out previously.
Catherine: Two last questions very quickly, because I’m very conscious of eating into your time and this is the busiest time of the year for you no doubt. Where are the all the women cider makers?
Tom: It’s a very good question. On the plus side let me say that at the moment there are some fantastic women cider makers in Canada. I’ve met at least three of them, and things are looking bright for lady cider makers in Canada. There are a number in America too. A lot of them come in from the wine side of things, but not exclusively.
It’s in the U.K. that we seem to sadly lag behind. I think it may be indicative of the way that cider’s perceived in the UK, generally, too. Maybe we are still perceived as a sort of a pints, belly wash, male, sort of lager type drink. Why would a lady want to get involved with cider? I’ll tell you why ladies should get involved with cider. One is, ladies, you have a far superior palate to the average male. You are possibly going to enjoy some of the finer attributes of some of the finer white wines. And it’s there that you will actually find that cider and you have a lot in common.
I don’t see why with your finer palates and your finer intuition, the ability that you would naturally possess to sell cider, that we aren’t getting more lady cider makers. We aren’t getting many young cider makers, generally. Young lady cider makers, there’s a fantastic future, I genuinely believe that. I would love to think that, you know, somewhere there’s hoards of ladies thinking I’ll tell you what, if I don’t want to do this on my own, why don’t we all get together and make some cider? It’s a pity; the future is vital. We do talk amongst us, as cider makers we talk amongst ourselves about this — is where is the next generation coming from?
We have a marvellous thing called the Big Apple, which has events twice a year in the Putley villages of Herefordshire, around the Putley area… Elton and Much Marcle. They have, over the years, championed new cider makers, and just I’m so pleased every so often, a lady will step up and take a champion new cider maker, or best new cider maker, or a runner up, or a second, anything. I hope they see the possibility of making a living from it.
Catherine: I’m sure there’s this space for a female trailblazer or trailblazers. Interesting, there’s a revival that’s happening in the U.K. with cider and perry, and of course real ale is also happening in Ireland. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a book that was published recently, which is called The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. And that, funnily enough, it has been put together by two women, Kristen Jensen and Caroline Hennessy. It’s a wonderful book. It gives you the story behind the cider, and the cider makers. Also, it goes through tasting notes, this beer is good with that food, and this cider tastes with good with this. It focuses on the small scale producers.
Tom: That sounds fantastic.
Catherine: That’s interesting, isn’t it, that it was written by…
Tom: You’ve actually, what’s the word, made me aware of a book that has got the word cider in the title that I don’t know about. I’m an avid collector of books that have got the word cider in the title, which means I’ve actually got dozens of books that have nothing to do with cider itself. It sounds like a very good book, and it sounds that if it’s as wide ranging as you’re suggesting, that it’s the sort of book that we actually need over here in England.
Catherine: Absolutely. An opportunity for somebody there, I think. What advice do you have for people considering taking the plunge and setting up as an artisan cider or a perry maker? If you knew what you knew now about being a cider and perry producer, what would you do differently?
Tom: I think the enthusiasm that you must have for it is vital. And having said that though, I actually think I can only tell you that I’m doing it because I started as an enthusiast before I wanted to make any money at it. I think I’ve come at it by not paying enough attention to the financial side of things in the way of making money from it. So, I would say you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing, and you’ve got to want to do it, and you would probably be more sensible to think in terms of not doing it initially for financial gain.
I believe you can cover your costs, and you can do things to a high standard, and you can make a go of things. But as with all things, it’s the volume that you have to do in order to actually end up with something really worthwhile to live on at the end of things. That is the hardest thing. You really have to do an awful lot. In order to get to that sort of volume, I’ve taken it very, very, very slowly, but I see people that jump in and get to quite a high volume very quickly who are doing much more under what I call a proper business arrangement.
I think I’m slightly marred in coming at it, as I say, from the enthusiast, and from the traditional viewpoints. I think there are great opportunities for those that look at it as a business. They’re aware of what it takes to make great cider and perry. There are lots of opportunities out there now. I think it needs always to have that fresh look, that fresh approach, and maybe not to be too encumbered with the past and tradition, and heritage. Come with fresh eyes. Cider is a great drink. We know what it takes to make great cider now. There really aren’t any excuses for making poor cider.
The interest in cider has never been stronger. I think if you have a good business model, and you have some good original thoughts, and you can innovate a bit, I think that the time is right for cider and perry makers. As far as Oliver’s Cider and Perry is concerned, we’re still a work in progress, we’re about halfway there, whatever halfway there means.
Catherine: You’re doing very well at it. Where can people reach you online?
Tom: The traditional www.oliversciderandperry.co.uk, and you will find there is a shop on site, and you can find out a little bit about us there. We have a Facebook page, which I think is Oliver’s Cider and Perry, but I’m never quite sure with Facebook how you give the address, but there’s a Facebook page. Twitter-wise its @oliverscider. I think since Google, or one of the versions of Google, or its competitors, nowadays if you want to know anything you just put in Oliver’s Cider Twitter, Oliver’s Cider Facebook and up it comes, it’s so easy now.
Catherine: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your SEO then, that’s the proof! Absolutely terrific Tom, thank you so much for your time.
Tom: Thank you so much for asking me on. I hope I haven’t rambled too much. Some very nice questions… very good, thank you very much.
Catherine: An absolute pleasure, thank you, Tom.
Thank you so much Tom. It was great to hear your perspective on being an artisan drink producer. I know your insights will resonate with many of our listeners. To find out how to connect with Tom online and to check out the resources he mentioned you can go the show notes for this episode, and they’re available at www.myartisanbusiness.com. While you’re there you can also get a text version of the show.
Why not connect with me online: I’m on Twitter as @FoodDrinkShow. That’s it for this episode folks. I’m Catherine Moran from the Artisan Food & Drink Business Show. Until next time happy cooking, happy fermenting, happy brewing, and thank you for listening.