Ascension Cider sales take off in Italy
Sussex-based cider maker Ascension Cider has responded to the closure of pubs and restaurants, its usual customer base, by introducing a new range of canned cider, selling out almost immediately, and now exporting their range of sparkling, still and speciality ciders to Italy.
The great sense of freedom and wonder that comes from flying is one of the inspirations behind creating ciders that don’t always fit the norm.
Cider aficionado and founder, Matt Billing, who is also a third-generation hot air balloon pilot, has three goals: ‘to fly high, be good to people and make awesome cider’
Based on an orchard in Rother and with offices at Polegate near Eastbourne, Matt Billing and his Dad, Martyn, founded the business just three years ago. Their aim was to make their cider from the juice of fresh apples only (no concentrate, water or sugar) which is naturally fermented, gluten-free and vegan-friendly.
What is most special about Ascension Cider is their adventurous, free-thinking spirit – delivered in every recipe that creates their lip-tingling and varied range of flavoured ciders. As many apples are wasted on the fields and rejected by supermarkets, they chose to use good quality, Sussex eating apples rejected by supermarkets than bitter cider apples, minimising food-waste and support local growers and orchards.
“We have blended more than 15 ciders, pressed over 25 different apple varieties, driven over thirty thousand miles and spread the joy to over a hundred pubs.”
During 2019, Ascension Cider had been approached by Cuzziol, a high profile Italian distributor of craft, and specialist beers, to be their only cider supplier, Ascension jumped at the chance, launched at the Food & Beer Attraction 2020 Show at the Rimini exhibition centre.
Originally allocated a small part of the overall Cuzziol exhibition stand alongside other drinks providers, Cuzziol discovered that Ascension were building a 'barsket', a bespoke handmade bar made from a hot air balloon basked complete with burner above, showcasing their aeronautical links as well as their comprehensive range of cider blends. Cuzziol decided to make Ascension the signature brand of its exhibition, with the Ascension Cider duo personally driving over a thousand miles to deliver the bar and over the Alps in Winter, becoming an instant hit at the exhibition.
With all this building success, they had the momentum to not just supply pubs and other trade outlets locally, but they also successfully ship cider to other parts of the country, working with wholesale partners and now Italy.
However, the recent Coronavirus and the resulting lockdown resulted in a dramatic reduction in sales with only a few outlets, offering takeaways and collections, still purchasing, and delaying their initial shipment to Cuzziol in the first lockdown.
The company responded by immediately developing and releasing a new range of canned cider. Initially offering four of their most popular blends, including their best selling Pilot, they decided to use attractive labels, designed with the help of local Eastbourne studio Hackney Design, and court a new market with their range.
Having launched these on a Monday to trade stocklists and opening a new webshop on Wednesday, the first production run of over 7,000 cans in four different flavours, sold out within a week. Working over the Bank Holiday weekend, another 12,000 cans were produced to replenish supplies and meet growing demand.
Now working internationally as well, they were able to supply new Italian demand, being able to deliver replenishment orders for their bag-in-box draught, sparkling cans and speciality bottlings of Islay cask blend ciders all the way to Italy.