Brewbound Podcast: The American Cider Association’s Michelle McGrath Discusses the Industry’s Goals and Challenges in 2020

Cider is always taking people by surprise, according to American Cider Association (ACA) executive director Michelle McGrath.

“CiderCon always beats the expectations of people who have never been here before,” McGrath said of the annual gathering of hundreds of cideries from around the globe, which was held last month in Oakland, California. “We are the premier professional conference for the cider industry in the world.”

In Episode 3 of the Brewbound Podcast’s third season, McGrath shared the organization’s goals and challenges as cider fights for share in an increasingly crowded alcoholic beverage marketplace.

This 2020 edition of CiderCon was the organization’s first since rebranding as the ACA and dropping the United States Association of Cider Makers moniker, a switch McGrath believes was necessary due to the organization’s increased lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

“We had more conversations with Congress than we’ve ever had before,” McGrath said. “When you’re trying to explain to somebody who you are and you lose them about halfway through the name, it’s not a very effective lobbying tool.”

When the ACA meets with lawmakers, the organization is advocating on the behalf of both large and small cideries, so McGrath and her team must thread the needle between the concerns of low-volume, orchard-based cideries and global producers.

“We’ve got hundreds of cidery members; our membership has increased 30% in the last couple years,” she said. “We’re representing not only hundreds of small, mom-and-pop cideries across the land, but also the vast majority of the volume of cider produced in this country.”

One issue that affects cider makers of all sizes is the federal Alcohol and TobaccoTax and Trade Bureau’s regulations regarding cider packaging, which prohibits cider makers from packaging cider above 7% ABV in 12 oz. cans. With more consumers gravitating toward canned offerings, cider makers find themselves in a difficult spot to meet the demands of the market.

“A lot of our members, they don’t necessarily want to go into cans, they believe their product demands a higher price point in a bottle and represents the type of cider that they make,” McGrath added. “But the market is perhaps forcing many of them into cans, so that’s a challenge because cider is not allowed to pack in a 12 oz. can if it’s above 7% ABV, due to the federal standards of fill, so this is something that we’ve been working on.”

Another issue facing cider makers is overcoming false assumptions that all ciders are alike..

“People don’t realize that it’s that diverse,” McGrath said. “They say ‘I’ve had a cider; I don’t like it,’ but they never say ‘I’ve had a beer, I don’t like it.’ They usually taste several styles of beer.”

Listen to the latest episode above, or find it on popular platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify. New episodes of the Brewbound Podcast are published Thursdays.

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