SYDNEY: Australia's drinking culture is changing, with alcohol consumption generally falling but niche markets such as cider growing rapidly.

Research from IBISWorld suggests the cider market has increased 11.4% over the past five years and will continue to grow at a more modest 5.5% over the next five years and will be worth $404.4m by 2021.

"Over the next five years, the number of industry enterprises is expected to continue innovating, creating new flavours and marketing techniques to maintain its trendy appeal," IBISWorld said.

This in part reflects a wider trend towards craft beers, evident in the US and UK where major brewers have paid to acquire leading practitioners.

But there are other factors at work, including concerns over health, according to Steve Dorman, Founder and General Manager of The Hills Cider Company.

"People are becoming more conscious of what they put in their body," he told Smart Company. "Cider is gluten free, it has no added sugar, no added preservatives, no concentrates," he said. "It's just fruit in a bottle."

Not only that, but "it has less alcohol as well, so instead of having one at dinner, you can look at having two ciders".

Major cider brands such as Somersby, Strongbow and Bulmers dominate the market but these are not necessarily best placed to take advantage of the growth in the market.

"Small businesses are [the] main area for growth," said Andrew Ledovskikh, senior analyst at IBISWorld. "Larger businesses have distribution models overseas already, but smaller businesses have the biggest scope for improvement."

That's because they are best able to respond to changing consumer tastes. These, said Ledovskikh, "are expected to continue shifting towards locally-produced premium products from craft cider breweries in Australia. As a result, imports are expected to decrease."

Trade body Cider Australia recently called for a Craft Cider category in liquor retail outlets to enable consumers to pick a way through the various claims made on the labelling of products.

Data sourced from Smart Company, Brews News; additional content by Warc staff