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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Woodchuck Cider brand returns to local ownership

<a href="" rel="attachment wp-att-54912"></a> <span class="photocreditinline">Public Domain</span><br />Woodchuck Cider was the leading brand of cider in the United States in 2012.
Public Domain
Woodchuck Cider was the leading brand of cider in the United States in 2012.

At less than 7% of its acquisition price, The Middlebury-based Vermont Cider Company (VCC) — best known by Middlebury students and residents for its popular product Woodchuck Hard Cider — has been sold to Northeast Drinks Group in a recent deal completed on April 9. Northeast Drinks Group was created solely to purchase VCC and reestablish local ownership, according to firm partner David Mander.

Before the $20 million purchase, the company was owned by C&C Group, an internationally-based Irish drinks conglomerate. When C&C bought VCC in 2012, the sale price was $305 million — three times the valuation of VCC at the time. 

Part of that 2012 purchase hinged on the popularity of Woodchuck Cider, which was the largest cider brand in the country at the time. At $20 million, Northeast Drinks Group LLC is doling out 93% less than what C&C paid for VCC.

The deal marks the first acquisition for Northeast Drinks Group, a private holding company run by executives in the beverage industry in New England that includes some current employees from VCC. The group plans to keep all contracts and current employees during the transition without any immediate changes to the cider brand. 

“We plan to support the VCC portfolio with a robust marketing spend and innovative programming. We’ll also leverage the ultra-modern facility to incubate and bring new brands to market over the coming years,” Mander said in an email to The Campus. 

Through the deal, Northeast Drinks Company will also gain control over Green Mountain Beverage, a division of VCC that specializes in the manufacturing and packaging of beverage products. 

“All of us at Vermont Cider Company couldn’t be happier with Northeast Drinks Group coming on board,” VCC General Manager Ben Calvi said in a press release. “I’ve enjoyed working alongside their team through the acquisition process and am excited to be joining them as we execute their vision for the future.” 

In addition to Woodchuck Hard Cider, VCC’s collection of brands include Wyder’s, Gumption, Magner, Blackthorn and Viva Spritz ciders. Launched in 1991, Woodchuck was VCC’s first product and will celebrate its 13th anniversary this year. 

Bridget Blacklock, vice president of marketing and sales at VCC, and Calvi were credited in the press release for leading the business while under the ownership of C&C Group. C&C oversaw construction of the 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art cidery located on Exchange Street, which opened in 2014. 

The following year, VCC laid off eight of their employees, attributing the job cuts to pressure from other mega breweries expanding into cider making. The executives that now make up Northeast Drinks Group saw the strain on VCC as an opportunity to purchase the company and acquire the manufacturer of Woodchuck Hard Cider.

According to Blacklock, the Woodchuck and Wyder’s brands have been particularly successful as of late. Northeast Drinks Group has committed to further investing in Vermont Cider Company’s current portfolio. 

“Woodchuck is set to re-introduce several limited-edition ciders in the coming months, paying homage to the brand’s popular variants over the years,” Mandler said. 

As VCC enters a new chapter, executives at Northeast Beverage Group are optimistic about the purchase. 

“As we look to the future, we will continue our passion and focus on cider while also adjusting to consumer beverage trends with brands that we feel best complement our current portfolio,” Blacklock said.