Artisan cider makers fear new binge-drinking levy

There will be a levy on cider with a particular alcohol content

By Rebecca Williams, West of England Correspondent

Artisan cider producers are concerned that a new levy could have a devastating impact on the industry.

The legislation, to be brought in from February, would see a duty introduced on ciders with an alcohol content of between 6.9% and 7.5%.

It was announced in the Budget and is aimed at cracking down on binge drinking.

The target is white cider – paler in colour, cheap, with a high alcohol content, and often associated with street and underage binge drinking.

But some traditional cider makers, who have been in the industry for decades, insist they will also be affected.

Barny Butterfield, Sandford Orchards
Barny Butterfield from Sandford Orchards is worried about the new levy

Barny Butterfield runs Sandford Orchards in Devon, the oldest working cider shed in the country.

He believes the levy could push prices up on some traditional ciders.

Mr Butterfield told Sky News: "As always when the government tries to intervene in small and fragile markets, which cider certainly is, they have changed the rules as to how alcohol is allowed to be made and that may affect a lot of growers, who make full strength ciders… I worry that there is now a law of unintended consequences."

Introducing the duty, Philip Hammond said he wanted to tackle "excessive consumption by the most vulnerable people".

Alcohol Concern has, in the past, said super strength cider is becoming like heroine among alcoholics and many campaigners and homeless charities have called for it not to be sold in anything bigger than a litre bottle.

MP Fiona Bruce is among those who welcome the duty.

She said: "Most of the craft cider industry won't be affected.

"What we are hoping is that producers will look at reformulating the alcohol content in cider and just reduce it enough to come under the alcohol duty band.

"That will encourage people to drink cider at a lower alcohol content, which is what also happened with beer."

Cider apples
The Government insists the levy will only affect around 11.5% of the market

But producers like Mr Butterworth don't believe the levy will have any effect, insisting it has only been introduced to make the Government look good.

He says cheaper cider contains more sugar and less juice, and a tax would therefore mean that even more inexpensive ingredients, such as syrup, are used to increase profit margins.

The Government insists the levy will only affect around 11.5% of the market. And of that, 78% is white cider.

It also insists that most artisan producers make less than 70 hectolitres of cider a year, and will therefore be exempt from the duty.

For the majority of drinkers the Budget was positive news in that most alcohol won't cost a penny more.

But many cider producers are warning that if a new tax is introduced next year it could have a devastating impact on them, even putting them out of business.

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