Paul Bartlett, chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers, warns minimum alcohol pricing threatens the Westcountry industry.
Last Tuesday was a more remarkable day than most.
First I was enormously proud to be confirmed as chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers – the body representing the UK cider industry – and second, within hours I was addressing a packed reception at Westminster telling MPs, Ministers and officials what they can expect from our industry and what we expect of them.
No pun intended but this is no "small beer" anymore – if ever it was. Sales of cider in the UK are worth about £2.7 billion a year and we remain the best performing drinks sector.
So in tough times we are a success story.
Across the South West this is understood because of the investment and employment supported by cider makers – not to mention the thousands of acres of orchards that shape the landscape.
I was also able to remind some and enlighten others that the cider industry is doing more than any other drinks industry – and most other industries – in terms of becoming more sustainable.
This means not just the work we do to increase biodiversity and enhance the environment, but being economically sustainable so we can continue to support direct and indirect employment in the rural communities where we are based.
On tackling the alcohol misuse of a small minority I repeated that this remains a priority for us as it does for Government. Again I was able to report what the cider industry has done, and is doing, to address this issue.
We remain ready and willing to work with the Government and all interested parties to tackle misuse – it is another vital strand of our determination to be sustainable.
Turning to what we expect from Government, I first reminded them that progress in recent years is fragile. A combination of punitive duty increases and the economic downturn has restricted what we might have achieved.
Hence the first of my three wishes so that we can create the opportunity for cider to flourish – was for stability and certainty on duty.
When duty on cider was frozen a few years back, the investment and innovation of cider makers meant the cider market increased by 53%. This expanded orchard planting, increased consumer choice and also significantly increased the contribution cider made to government revenues.
My second wish was for them to work with us on social responsibility and greater sustainability so we can deliver the improvements we all want to see.
And the third was certainty on policy – decisions taken without consultation, like on Minimum Unit Pricing, create unrest and uncertainty. This threatens the progress cider might make.
Britain leads the world in terms of cider – with the South West at the forefront.
Cider makers have shown through a combination of resilience, innovation and investment that the industry can succeed and flourish at home and increasingly in export markets.
When the Government recognises the contribution we make and the potential we have, we can do even more – I think we made a good start with that in Westminster last week.