UK/France: Agrial buys UK's largest independent cider producer

French agricultural cooperative and food-processor Agrial has bought Aston Manor, UK’s largest independent cider producer and the second leading player on the British cider market. The company announced that Agrial’s Beverage Division Eclor, which is the leading player on the French cider market and already present in the United States, is expanding operations to Great Britain, the largest cider market in the world.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, however, the deal was valued £100 million (US$ 128.5m) 15 months ago when financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard had been recruited by Aston Manor Cider to hunt for a buyer.

Cider was one of the fastest-growing alcohol categories in the last 52 weeks in the UK, according to data from July 2018. Value sales grew 7.5% still outpacing volume sales, which grew 5.9%, thanks to the popularity of large multipacks.

After the sale of 290 years cider maker Aspall to Molson Coors in January 2018 (, 15.1.2018) and London-based cider maker Hawkes to BrewDog three months later (, 9.4.2018) it is already the third UK based cider maker within 9 months to change hands. The UK is the world's biggest market for cider, accounting for 45% of sales. The total UK cider market value grew by over 25% between 2010 and 2015 and is projected to continue that growth through until 2020 according to data from Nielsen.  Strongbow, a cider brand owned by Heineken, is market leader in the UK with a share of 28 per cent.

The Birmingham-based Aston Manor was founded in 1983 and has been owned by its founders, the Ellis family, since that time. Having been started as a beer brewery, the company now produces exclusively cider and perry. The company developed a dual expertise with a successful range of brands such as Kingstone Press, Frosty Jack’s and Knights and strong partnerships with British retailers to create own-label products. With 300 employees, the company has four production sites in Stourport (close to Worcester), Witton and Aston (Birmingham) and Tiverton (close to Exeter). In 2017, Aston Manor booked turnover of £134 million (US$ 172m) and exported its products to more than 20 countries around the globe.

Agrial is a French farming and food cooperative which operates in 4 sectors: milk, fresh vegetables and fruit, beverages and meat. Originally based in Normandy France, the Group has regularly expanded since its creation to become one of the leading French farming cooperatives and is today present in Europe, Africa and the United States.

Agrial’s Beverage Division Eclor leads the French cider market, namely owing to its Ecusson, Loïc Raison and La Mordue cider brands. It is also present on the American market with its Manzana and Seattle Cider companies. With 800 employees, including around one hundred in the US, Eclor has made international development its priority as part of Agrial’s Horizon 2025 strategy. As the French cider market contends with structural decline, this growth is a sign of confidence and longevity for the cooperative’s 600 cider apple producers.

James Ellis, chief financial officer at Aston Manor Cider and founding family member commented: “It was extremely important to my family that we found a new owner that mirrors our own values that will offer strong custodianship of the family business that we have built and nurtured for 35 years. This deal will provide both the company and our staff with continuing opportunities to grow. Agrial is the perfect fit, and we are delighted to build Aston Manor’s future with them.”

For Marc Roubaud, Eclor Managing Director, “It was crucial to significantly strengthen our international presence on the cider market by gaining a foothold in the world’s leading market, which is comparable to ours and our members’ orchards. Aston Manor and Eclor are similar companies, with shared priorities both in terms of popular brands as well as own-label products, and we are thrilled to join forces to give our customers an expanded portfolio.”

According to Gordon Johncox, Chief Executive of Aston Manor, “Aston Manor was looking for a partner that would allow us to continue the growth and development underway now for several years. With Eclor, we have found a strong and ambitious partner. The fact that Agrial is a cooperative was also a deciding factor for us, because we can be sure of choosing a company with similar values. Aston Manor’s management is very pleased with this agreement.”

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