The Bulmer Cider Firm in 1968

The Brewing Trade Review in 1968 profiled H.P. Bulmer, cider-makers of Hereford, England. Herefordshire is one of the traditional cider regions, east of Wales in the western Midlands.

The Review captured the firm at a pivotal point. It outlined how in 1887 a rector’s son, only 20, used apples from the rectory orchard to make his first saleable cider.

In 1894 a brother travelled to France to learn its cider-making techniques. He had passed up an opportunity to tutor the King of Siam’s children to join the business, according to another account.

This fed into the company’s early interest in so-called Champagne cider, seen as a market alternative to Champagne wine imports, increasingly costly after 1914.

As early as 1915 in New York this sparkling Champagne cider was available, touted in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and other U.S. papers.

Read for yourself the impressive course of the company, as of 1968. In that year the firm was still family-owned, but some years earlier had brought in professional management, which enabled the company to benefit fully from the ongoing cider boom.

A few years after the Review profile the company went public with the family retaining majority ownership. In 2003 Bulmer was bought by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, and today is in the mighty Heineken fold.

1968 is a time, therefore, when the company was a deal from its artisan roots, yet not part of a far-flung enterprise with heart and soul in brewing. The family was still involved, albeit working with hired executives.

Technologies clearly reflected old and new. Cider vats, some very large, made of English oak early in the firm’s history were still in use, side by side now with glass-lined and steel tanks. The company insisted still on the traditional, bitter-sweet apple variety for its cider.

A new emphasis was placed on advertising, a strategy that worked, for Bulmer and its competitors, as in each year from 1964, sales increased by 15%.*

Bulmer made sophisticated arrangements with farmers to encourage cider orchard implantation and expansion, and increased annually its own orchard inventory.

A point that stands out is Bulmer’s reliance in some years on French apples, i.e., when local harvests didn’t measure up.

Occasional reliance on French apples was an historical feature of the British cider industry. It was noted by the economic historian Walter Minchinton in his chapter “The British Cider Industry Since 1880“, in (1997) Competition and Cooperation of Enterprises on National and International Markets, Hans Pohl (ed.).

This article is excellent background to appreciate where Bulmer’s, and British cider in general, were in 1968.

My sense, from reading both resources, is while features of traditional production remained in 1968, the cider firms, foremost Bulmer, were on a path of decided professionalization, mechanization, finally consolidation, finally acquisition by large moneyed groups.

The same path has occurred today for some craft brewers, albeit in a quicker compass than attended these old British family firms. But everything moves faster today, eh?

An irony one may note in considering the two accounts: Minchinton makes clear how the Church was behind the reining-back of the booze market, cider and other, in the late Victorian period.

Yet, we see that a clergyman’s son started Bulmer’s, one of Britain’s great success stories in food and beverage – in the same period.

Such is the Janus-face of the alcohol business, the light shines alternately on one side or the other depending on the zeitgeist.

Strongbow (introduced 1960) is the best known brand today, certainly internationally. Bulmer-brand ciders in the UK are nationally known, today owned by Heineken as noted. An Irish Bulmer, called Magner internationally, uses Irish produce for its cider and is not connected to the Hereford firm.**

UK Bulmer cider, for its part, makes a point of using only English apples, a practice started only in 2019 (see history timeline), relatively late in the company’s history. Apparently Strongbow does too, although the website is not as clear.

*See 1967 television advert linked in Comments.

**Independent at least since 1960, although we have not investigated further.

 

 

 

1 thought on “The Bulmer Cider Firm in 1968”

  1. Courtesy YouTube, a 1967 tv ad for Bulmer’s Woodpecker brand. Note the Americanized soundtrack, and the rather American/Australian beach scene albeit clearly placed in Britain. There can’t be too many sunny days in the UK, even in summer, as pictured in the ad! But advertising was always aspirational, idealized.

    Reply

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