With nearly 95 percent year-over-year growth in dollar sales, sponsorship sellers would be wise to put the cider category on their prospect list.  

Companies ranging from large commercial brewers to small specialty brands are increasingly using sponsorship to support brand positioning, engage consumers and access platforms for retail promotions.

Case in point: Woodchuck—the category’s second-largest player behind Angry Orchard—has signed a handful of new deals spanning music festivals, minor league baseball teams and renaissance festivals.

Deals include the Catskill Chill Music Festival in Hancock, N.Y.; the Gathering of the Vibes music festival in Bridgeport, Conn. and the Daytona Cubs minor league baseball team.

IEG SR spoke with Nate Formalarie, Woodchuck communications manager, about Woodchuck’s use of sponsorship, new partnerships and other topics.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

On the background of the cider category
The category has exploded, and it’s happening in many areas.

We break down the category into three sectors. You have the commercial cider, which is just getting into the game. The category includes brands owned by Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, the Boston Beer Co. and other big players that want to access a new revenue stream. Those companies are allocating millions of dollars to TV ads and YouTube pre-rolls.

Then you have the craft segment, which is where Woodchuck falls. We just make cider; we use regional apples instead of pulling them from around the world. If cider were to go away, we would not be in existence.

The final segment is the orchard guys. These are super-small operations that might have 50 acres and sell in high-end boutiques. They do very little marketing.

The Top Eight Cider Brands

*Sales in U.S. supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar store chains in the year-ending May18, 2014, per IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide).

On the role of sponsorship in Woodchuck’s marketing mix
We have never done big-time advertising; we focus on strategic partnerships.

We can’t spend millions of dollars on TV campaigns. We have to let people try our product to get them interested. We can reach 100,000 people at a festival. We target young, artistic music-oriented outdoor people, so we look for events that match that audience.

On the Bonnaroo and Wakarusa music festivals
We partnered with Bonnaroo in 2007—it’s our biggest and oldest event.

In addition to sampling and pouring product we distribute branded sunglasses, T-shirts and other products to people under the hot sun. We interact with attendees instead of just being there to pour.

Last year we took the Bonnaroo sponsorship a step further by hosting a “cider 101” educational event where our cider makers spoke about the cider-making process.

This year we sponsored the Woodchuck Hard Cider Backwoods Stage at the Wakarusa music festival, which was a first. We have a campaign called “Give a ‘Chuck,” and we incorporated a sign that said “Give a ‘Chuck about great music” on the stage.

On Woodchuck’s sponsorship of renaissance festivals
We have increased traction with renaissance festivals—that’s a space where we’ve been extremely successful. Cider is a historic beverage, and renaissance festivals draw a very passionate fan base.

On Woodchuck’s involvement with minor league baseball
Teams will put Woodchuck on draft, and we’ll do Woodchuck nights where we offer discounts on our product. It’s a nice atmosphere for our product.

The deals are typically spearheaded by local sales people. We have a 55-person sales team. Sometimes they work with distributors. Many deals start on the ground and get kicked up to us to execute.

Editor’s note: C&C Group in 2012 purchased Woodchuck for $305 million. The Dublin-based company also owns Magners, Hornsby’s and other cider brands.