Crispin CEO Shares Recipe For Building Cider Brand

April 11, 2012

Ever since I first tried hard cider at a Timberwolves game four years ago, the refreshing drink has been my go-to in situations where others are sipping beer (sporting events, happy hours, summer parties, at the cabin, etc.). This is especially true during the warmer months. The arrival of spring, in my mind, signals hard cider time.

The cider that I tried at that Timberwolves game, the cider that kick started my love affair, was Crispin Original from the Crispin Cider Company. Crispin, a Minneapolis-based company, has taken the country by storm, growing 200 percent in 2011 and helping the U.S. cider market see a 26 percent increase last year compared to a declining beer market.

Brewing giant MillerCoors took notice Crispin’s successes, and announced in February it had purchased the four-year-old cider company. As part of the deal, Crispin will operate as an independent division under the leadership of founder and CEO Joe Heron.

I sat down with Joe earlier this month to talk about how marketing has contributed to the growth of Crispin.

Positioning: The Backbone of the Brand
Throughout our conversation, Joe stressed the importance of brand positioning in Crispin’s marketing plan, and walked me through the main points of its competitive advantage. The rational benefit revolves around the fact that Crispin is made from fresh-pressed juice. On the emotional side, Crispin says that you have good taste, that you have differentiated taste (not drinking the same thing as everyone else) and that you’re adventurous (willing to try different things).

When discussing the emotional benefit in particular, Joe added, “Everything you buy says something about you, but what you drink is the biggest story of all. Do you drink vodka or whiskey? Are you a craft beer drinker, or do you order mainstream beer? The consumer drinks your product because they’re thirsty, but they buy your brand because they feel good about themselves.”

Cider: Not Just for the Ladies
I thought the audience for hard cider would have been majority female, but Joe surprised me when he told me that their consumer base is 60 percent male and 40 percent female. It’s a more gender-balanced ratio than most alcoholic beverage categories, but it was still surprising. As it turns out, it’s not by chance. Joe revealed that many of their products are targeted towards men because, “guys won’t drink chick drinks, but girls will drink guy’s drinks.”

Joe further revealed that 77 percent of Crispin drinkers are new to the hard cider category, and likely fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Craft Beer Drinker: Young male, 25- to 35-years-old. Twice as likely to drink cider as the norm
  • Urban Sophisticate: Foodie, skews slightly female. Fifty percent more likely to drink cider
  • Party Animal: Skews female, younger, looking for something easy to drink. More than twice as likely to drink cider

Some of the different product offerings from Crispin

To appeal to each of these drastically different segments, Joe noted that Crispin is actually three cider companies in one. The Crispin “blue label” line of apple ciders, the Fox Barrel line of pear ciders and the Crispin artisan line which Joe described as a “craft beer line masquerading as a cider company.”

Educating New Consumers
Considering the U.S. hard cider market is only 0.5 percent of the overall beer market, Crispin not only has to introduce consumers to their product, they have to educate them on an entirely new category. Knowing that the beer drinkers weren’t going to come to them, Joe and his team adopted the notion that they would have to go to them, and heavily invested in a sales team. From there, sampling and on-premise marketing became crucial — beer fests, liquor stores, pairing diners, etc.

To make matters more challenging, they also were on a mission to “reset the American cider palate” for those who had tried other cider brands in the past. Where other ciders are more sticky sweet, Crispin products are more crisp and clean, and they believe that they can change the minds of those who may have disregarded cider in the past.

Marketing Muscle from MillerCoors
I asked Joe if we could expect to see an increase in marketing efforts thanks to an influx of cash from MillerCoors. He proudly shared with me some brand new, yet-to-air TV ads, but was tight-lipped about when and where they would run. Overall, he was most excited about the increased distribution as a result of the deal with the brewing giant, “You don’t create loyalty by large scale advertising; you get that by being available.”

The Digital Cider
Crispin is active on a number of digital platforms, and, instead of posting the same content on all of the channels, has a specific use for each. The website is used to provide rich information (such as how Crispin is made, pairing suggestions); Facebook is used to maintain a relationship with fans (answering their questions, showing them new products); Twitter is used to get people to take action (attend an event or festival, take advantage of a special offer); and Tumblr is used to provide a deeper understanding on specific topics (commercials, limited release products).

To top it off, Crispin has its own mobile app, a Cider Finder app for Android and iPhone, and a blog. The blog, The Cider Kitchen, is written by a Minneapolis-based chef and shares recipes ranging from cocktails to burgers that include hard cider. You did know that hard cider is a favorite “secret” ingredient of chefs all around the country, right?

I’ll leave you with one of the new T.V. ads featuring one of my favorite products from Crispin – Crispin Original. If you’re looking to try Crispin, start here and enjoy it over ice. It’s the company’s best seller and you can’t go wrong. Thank me later.