I first met Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm & Cidery at an investment forum event for VCs and Angels, organized by Zino Society. Crystie was one of the event’s presenters and held tastings to show off her cidery’s line of products. After having a chance to learn about her business, I was impressed by her warm personality, passion for the local business community, and quality of ciders that come from her farm. It is more than noteworthy to be a topic of this blog post.
First, a little bit about her farm. Crystie, along with her husband Keith Kisler, are founders of Finnriver Farm & Cidery. It is a 33-acre organic farm located in a historically agricultural valley in Chimacum, an area just south of Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. In addition to being a working family farm, Finnriver is also a licensed winery specializing in both sparkling hard ciders and spirited fruit wines. They are family-owned business that is truly dedicated to building a “community around local agriculture and rural life.” This is evidenced by the fact that their production materials used are local (i.e. locally grown organic apples), the business is financed completely by local investors, and all of their business partners are from the local community. Finnriver products can be found all over local markets and wine shops in the Pacific Northwest, but can also be bought directly from the farm itself or online at http://www.finnriver.com. One of their most notable products is the Finnriver Artisan Sparkling Cider, but my personal favorite is the Finnriver Forest Fir Cider, which is made with Douglas fir tips.
So why consider investing in Finnriver? Consider the cider market as a whole. In the past few years, the U.S. as a whole has experienced significant growth in the consumption of and production of Cider. From 2011-2012, the industry has seen a 77% increase in annual cider production (from 35 million liters to 62 million liters). Retail sales of ciders have also grown by about 30% from 2011-2012. Data from SymphonyIRI Group, indicated that hard cider sales at supermarkets and other stores (data exclude Walmart, club stores and liquor stores) totaled about $71.5 million for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 5, 2012, more than a 50% increase over the same period a year before. Though cider is considered a small, niche market of alcoholic beverages, several factors are driving its demand. “Cider’s a growth story because of the demographics –it’s sweet, it’s natural, it appeals to the Coke generation,” Stephen Glancey, CEO of Dublin-based C&C Group Plc, which sells two of the world’s biggest brands in Magners and Gaymers, said in an interview in BusinessWeek. “It’s unisex beer.” Ciders, like wine, can also be paired with different foods and comes in a very large variety of flavors. Breweries and beer companies, such as Samuel Adams (Angry Orchard), have also tapped into the market to offer an alternative beverage to major branded-beer for consumers, which has observed a recent stall in growth.
Finnriver is in a ripe location for the growing cider industry. As the state fruit, Washington produces about 42 percent of the apples grown in the United States (and 60% of those grown for fresh consumption). It’s also home to over 750 wineries (2nd largest premium wine producer in the United States) and 28 different cider producers. Finnriver is positioned well in in keeping up with this market demand for ciders, where they went from producing 800 gallons in 2009 to 5,000 in 2011 and are looking to expand farmland.
They have been a significant part of the local Northwest community in the wine, ciders, and spirits business entrepreneurs. Though ciders from other producers can be seen as competitors, Crystie stated that the overall vibe is collaborative. “Helping them helps us” says Crystie, as it draws more consumers as a whole into drinking ciders. In fact, Finnriver is located near to two other cideries, Alpenfire and Eaglemount, in Port Townsend so that visitors can check out what all three have to offer. The relationships that Finnriver has established with investors and other businesses in addition to being a significant part of the local community sets up a very positive outlook on their business as a whole.