The number of Australian cider drinkers sky-rocketed between 2006 and 2016 by almost 600%, from just 337,000 to 2,349,000. The only other alcoholic drink category to have gained popularity over the same period was spirits, which saw a more moderate growth of 25%—albeit at a larger scale, having grown from 3,890,000 to 4,861,000 Australians.
With summer as peak cider-drinking season, nearly 3m people consumed cider between January and March 2016, compared with 2,250,000 in the quarter preceding it and 2,220,000 in the following quarter.
This pattern is evident for all January-March quarters over the last 10 years. It is also striking to see how, with each consecutive summer quarter, the number of people partaking in peak-season cider consumption increases in accordance with the beverage’s overall upward trend.
With some 724,000 Aussie regular drinkers—an increase from 460,000 in 2015—Somersby leads the brand field by a large margin, having overtaken last year’s most popular cider brand 5 Seeds.
5 Seeds was also beaten this year by Strongbow (538,000), which has bounced back from a several-year slump. Rekorderlig (332,000) and Bulmers (282,000) completed the top five, though both brands lost consumers over the last 12 months.
While cider is very much a younger person’s drink, with just over half of consumers being under 35 years old, drinkers of all ages share some striking similarities in terms of their “hip” attitudes and behaviour.
They are more likely than average Australians to be sociable, wear fashionable clothes, self-identify as intellectual and “look for new experiences every day”. They are also first to adopt new alcoholic drinks and have an “elevated tendency towards novelty”.
“Since we first revealed cider’s popularity boom in the wake of the government’s increased tax on ‘alcopops’, its upward trajectory has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Norman Morris or Roy Morgan Research.
“The number of Aussie adults drinking cider in an average four weeks has now well and truly surpassed those drinking alcopops in the same period and shows no sign of plateauing.”
With the most brand options ever available, it is crucial that big brands don’t rest on their laurels because the beverage’s popularity is at a historic high, Morris warns.
“Increased choice means increased competition, and the shifts among the most popular brands over the last 12 months are testament to this. During this short period, for example, Somersby has shot up to top spot, while Strongbow has made a comeback and last year’s favourite, 5 Seeds, has slipped to third,” he added.
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Enzymes key to why some crops can withstand extremes better than others
Research to develop food crops that produce bigger yields and cope better with drought has identified a key enzyme that might explain why sorghum and millet are more productive and can withstand extreme conditions better than wheat and rice.
Sorghum, sugarcane, millet and maize use a form of photosynthesis called C4 that made them more efficient at transforming carbon dioxide, light and water into sugars, the study found.
“They do this by taking up carbon dioxide from the air and concentrating it in specialised cells deep in the leaf,” said lead researcher Hugo Alonso-Cantabrana, of the Australian National University.
Meanwhile, wheat and rice—known as C3 plants—use the oldest form of photosynthesis, which gives them a disadvantage in high temperatures and low rainfall, Alonso-Cantabrana’s team reported in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Botany.
“C4 plants can capture carbon dioxide from the air while losing less water from their leaves, but little is known about what determines the efficiency of this process,” said co-researcher Hannah Osborn.
To investigate the process, the team studied the role of carbonic anhydrase (CA), the first enzyme that carbon dioxide encounters in the leaf of a model C4 plant, Setaria viridis, also known as green millet.
“This enzyme is vital for C4 photosynthesis as it helps carbon dioxide from the air to dissolve quickly into the liquid of the cell,” Osborn said.
“This is the first time that we have been able to transform this model C4 plant to have less of the CA enzyme and look at the effects on photosynthesis and water loss.
“We think that under adverse conditions such as drought or high temperatures, having a lot of this enzyme could be advantageous for the plant.”
The team will continue the research to test the role of the enzyme under extreme environmental conditions.