Cider Corner: The Opportunities Ironbound Sees in DTC Sales

Nearing a decade since opening, Ironbound owner Charles Rosen sees a need to expand past retail shelves and local taps.

Previously only available at the ciderhouse and bars, restaurants and liquor stores in the tri-state area, the Hunterdon County, New Jersey company announced that it will begin shipping its hard, Imperial and Harrison Apple ciders nationwide with a direct-to-consumer interface.

“Our decision to incorporate DTC is a way for us to meet an increasing demand from consumers without having to fight against those mega-corps for shelf-space,” he explained to Brewer. “People have been writing to us for years saying that they love our ciders and love how we do business, and yet, they can never find us out in the market. 

“We think eCommerce is a great way to address that.” 

Only a few weeks in and Rosen reported that they have already seen orders from Florida, Georgia, and upstate New York.

“As we see the continued commodification of craft beverages — like all of the craft breweries being bought up by the large holding companies — it’s leading to a ‘race to the bottom,’” he said. “These big companies are buying up brands just for the shelf-space — selling high volume at a low cost and the distributors who work for them control those shelves.” 

READ MORE: Cider Corner: 4 Points to Ponder when Starting DTC Sales

That, he noted, is making it increasingly difficult for small, and truly “craft producers” to fight for market share. 

“I always joke, ‘nobody is climbing over a pallet of f’ing Whiteclaw to get to a 4-pack of Ironbound – regardless of our farming, sourcing, and hiring practices,’” he said.

Ironbound had to completely redo its website for eCommerce. Rosen said an update is already needed to better accommodate things like discount codes

“We have had to, and continue to tweak, shipping packaging to handle a range of orders from just cases of cans to individual bottles to some combination thereof,” he said, adding that as DTC sales build, he sees that we may need to dedicate more labor and space for higher volume of shipments.

“But that would be a great problem to have,” he added. 

This ability to sell directly has opened up an opportunity for both new packaging and new product offerings, Rosen said. 

Just in time for the holidays, they plan to launch a collection pack of all four of Ironbound’s Imperial Ciders, which are their take on old-world aperitifs and digestifs. Those are all packaged in 375 mL bottles versus the existing 750 mLs. 

They plan to include a cocktail book that showcases these higher ABV (18.5%) ciders. 

“As cider cocktails are the new ‘hot’ thing, this is a great opportunity for us to play in that space and become known as a true alternative to Campar, and such,” Rosen said. “We’ve designed a custom box for this collection — making it a great holiday gift.”

The more product innovation this supports, the more innovation it requires from a packaging standpoint, Rosen said.

“We are considering special packaging for the Cider Royal, a key product from the Harrison apple collection, that will allow for both a new bottle design and packaging for that bottle as it is a high-end purchase.”

Product-wise, Rosen said they have spent years bringing back and cultivating the famed Harrison apple – which is the heart of the historic Newark Cider industry — and have created a trio of products made from this incredibly rare apple. 

“We could never make enough — nor price it accordingly — to sell these ciders in the wholesale market,” he said. “But real cider geeks are going to lose their minds over these ciders.”

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