In 2002 Barny Butterfield began making cider in a shed. Fast forward 20 years and he is Chief Cidermaker and owner of Sandford Orchards, a business that produces over 7 million pints of cider per year, yet still retains Barny’s original vision, to produce the best tasting cider ‘done right’.
Barny Butterfield comments: “ In the beginning, cider making was really just a hobby but one that I seemed to have some talent for. It was also something that I was incredibly passionate about, right from the outset. Eventually, it was clear that either my hobby or my day job had to go and I made the decision to put all my efforts into Sandford Orchards. It is a decision that I have never regretted. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to create such a successful business doing something that I truly enjoy.”
In the early years, business growth was slow, as Barny navigated a steep learning curve with limited staff (mostly family and friends paid in cider) and equipment. However, producing top quality cider was always his focus and in 2010 he won CAMRA Champion Cider of Great Britain. This threw Sandford Orchards into the spotlight and this recognition gave Barny the confidence to invest in and expand the business.
The next step was to buy the Cider Works in Crediton and bring it back to life as the oldest working cider mill in the country. This enabled Sandford Orchards to increase capacity and establish itself as a serious player in the cider industry. Growth continued at a steady pace and then at the end of 2019, they made the strategic decision to invest heavily in a full rebrand. Alongside this, they expanded their packaging capability by setting up their own canning line, replacing their bottling line with brand new state of the art machinery and increasing automation in their kegging line.
Barny explains: “The last few years have seen the most rapid growth for the business. Having invested over £1.2 million in 2020 on our rebrand and new equipment, we can now produce 3,500 cans per hour and 6,000 bottles, so that we can supply more of our great tasting cider to more people. This means that, as well as being available in pubs, hospitality venues, off licences and independent shops, our cider has also now made it onto the shelves of high street retailers including Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Aldi, Spar and The Co-op.”
Although the business, in some ways, has grown beyond all recognition from its humble beginnings in a lean-to on the farm, it still shares his original vision to create fantastic authentic cider. Over the years, Sandford Orchards’ cider has scooped a host of national and international awards that confirm that they are continuing to produce some of the best cider around. However, Barny is never one to rest on his laurels, he wants to ensure that generations to come can continue to enjoy award-winning cider, which is why he is working hard to protect orchards for the future and encourage the next cohort of real cider makers.
Barny elaborates: “They’ve been making real cider in the UK for over 2,000 years and I want to make sure that tradition continues. Recently, we’ve been working with Bristol University to map the DNA of ancient apple trees in our orchards, so we can identify vulnerable and unique varieties and protect them for the future. We also want to encourage the next batch of cider makers and have instigated The Sandford Orchards Breakthrough Cider Maker Awards, which offer aspiring cider makers advice, guidance and guaranteed listings in the on and off trade.”
Meanwhile, Sandford Orchards continues to grow at the fastest pace in its 20 year history. Barny adds: “ We are proud to still be an independent, family-owned business and we are in a really healthy place that allows us to reinvest in the business and our staff. We still press and ferment whole juice from the finest apples and age it to perfection to create fabulous cider. Our continued growth simply means more people get to enjoy it and that is exactly why I started making cider twenty years ago.”
For further information on Sandford Orchards please visit www.sandfordorchards.co.uk