PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Vermont Hard Cider Company CEO Dan Rowell remembers when making and distributing his company's Woodchuck Cider in the U.S. was a much lonelier task.
Vermont Hard Cider Company has been producing Woodchuck Cider for roughly 23 years and, through 2012, was the leading hard cider producer in the country with a 53% share of the cider market. As recently as 2009, cider was a $35 million market in the U.S. that wasn't spreading past core markets in the Northeast, Northwest and Great Lakes.
However, a whole lot changed in 2012 to bring Vermont Hard Cider Company and U.S. drinkers into the cider-soaked present. SABMiller (SBMRY) and MolsonCoors (TAP) U.S. joint venture MillerCoors purchased Minneapolis-based craft cider company Crispin Hard Cider for a reported $40 million earlier that year and placed the cider within its Tenth & Blake craft beer division. Later that year, Boston Beer Company (SAM) , makers of the Samuel Adams line of craft beers, introduced its Angry Orchard cider line that would become the nation's top-selling cider by 2013.
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Vermont Hard Cider Company, meanwhile, wasn't exactly left behind. Ireland-based C&C Group, makers of the Magner's cider brand, purchased the company and its Middlebury, Vt., headquarters and cider making facility for $305 million at the end of the year. While the creators of Woodchuck Cider were able to retain their autonomy, the infusion of funding from C&C allowed the company to expand Woodchuck's line of ciders and begin work on a second $34 million cider house in Middlebury, Vt.
The new cider house increases Woodchuck's overall capacity to roughly 720,000 barrels, making Vermont Hard Cider Company roughly the size of the Portland, Ore.-based Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) , the nation's ninth-largest brewer and producer of the Redhook, Kona and Widmer Brothers brands.
It's going to need that bulk to compete with not only Angry Orchard, but with MillerCoors' new male-targeted Smith & Forge cider and Anheuser-Busch InBev's (BUD) recently released Stella Cidre and Johnny Appleseed ciders.
Dan Rowell took over as chief executive of Vermont Hard Cider Company in March just after former CEO Bret Williams stepped down from the position for a different role within the board of directors. He's taking over at a time when IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, notes that cider has exploded into a $327 million industry at retail locations alone. Overall U.S. cider sales have increased nearly 84% since 2012, with the industry adding $149 million in new sales in 2013. Cider is now a full 1% of the overall U.S. beer market, which is about the same share as Guinness distributor Diageo (DEO) currently holds.
While that company's share slid last year, however, Rowell believes that cider has the opportunity to take 5% of the beer market "in my lifetime." With most restaurants and bars dedicating one tap, at most, to cider and Rowell's Woodchuck taproom currently featuring 20 ciders on tap, he believes there's plenty of room for expansion and that Woodchuck and its big beer competitors alike are broadening the market. His portfolio backs up that claim, with sweetened and spiced seasonal varieties serving as the second best-selling Woodchuck ciders behind its flagship Amber and Belgian White, Hop Cider and India Pale Cider varieties aiming directly for crossover beer drinkers and steering them toward more esoteric ginger- and mint-infused ciders.