Appeal of the Apple: Investigating Preference, Perception, and Communication Around Hard Cider in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic United States

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Virginia Tech


Alcoholic or "hard" cider, as it is known in the United States, is experiencing a resurgence in popularity worldwide, but most relevantly throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Cider has a rich history of being America's drink of choice, beginning with the native apple trees of indigenous communities and the proliferation of apple growing in the original American colonies. Today, cider is becoming popular particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where New York, Virginia, and Vermont are the 1st, 8th, 12th ranked states with the most cideries in America. In light of the American cider industry experiencing such a renaissance, leading industry stakeholders and various other scholars have drawn attention to the need for increased clarity regarding consumer and producer perceptions of cider quality, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of cider sensory quality. This dissertation utilizes qualitative research methods, including focus groups and interviews conducted in New York, Virginia, and Vermont, to explore consumer and producer preferences of cider and the cider-drinking experience. In addition, this research employed traditional sensory descriptive analysis (DA) to quantify sensory differences across cider products. Lastly, this research presents findings on the use of biterm topic modeling (BTM), an emergent method of text mining for small datasets, to explore topics of discussion in cider marketing materials for products in the American cider marketplace.

This dissertation presents evidence of preferences, sensory perception, and discourse within a snapshot of the current American cider industry. Cider consumers and producers prioritize flavor when discussing cider quality, but also value how cider is made and where it comes from. Consumers, in particular, are nostalgic about the cider-drinking community and culture that is omnipresent in the Northeast. Secondly, the sensory quality of ciders can be discriminated across multiple variables, including region of origin, packaging, and style; suggesting that the sensory space of American cider products is diverse and nuanced. Lastly, when marketing cider products through website platforms, cider producers tend to emphasize topics related to sensory attributes, production elements, food-pairing, flavorings, and apple varieties. With a greater understanding of consumer and producer preferences of cider, cider sensory quality, and cider communication, industry actors and stakeholders may have a more actionable understanding of where the cider industry may be headed with continued growth. As well, this dissertation provides a framework for the use of qualitative and text mining tools to better understand facets of consumption and production, as well as marketing language in the food and beverage space.