Finding a way to make beer attractive to women is arguably the biggest challenge remaining for bars and brewers alike. Nigel Huddleston wonders how to take the beard out of beer-drinker
It’s 20 years since one national brewer launched a lacklustre lager in a blue bottle with the revolutionary marketing angle that it was just for women. With the benefit of hindsight, the timing was all wrong. This was immediately post the stock market big bang, when London’s bright young things were necking Clicquot by the crate-load in Soho café bars, while beer drinking was something that was done almost exclusively by blokes in male-dominated pubs, standing up, quickly, by the pint and with levels of dignity in inverse proportion to the amount consumed.
It didn’t help that everything about this ‘beer for women’ was fundamentally rubbish, from the (lack of) taste to the gaudy packaging. Worst of all was the name: Bleu de Brasserie. And they wondered why it didn’t sell…
Fast-forward to 2008 and the landscape has changed. Taboos around women going out on their own, rather than as an accessory to a man, have collapsed. More significantly, the growth of wine, cider and cocktails, and the simultaneous slump in beer sales, has left the beer industry searching for new markets – and women are the obvious first port of call. The female market is increasingly being viewed as a big ‘opportunity’ for beer – marketing speak for an area in which a product is performing poorly.
As the laddish lager advertising of the late 20th century testifies, women have largely been ignored by the beer industry in the past, but with on-trade beer sales down 9% in the year to May (Nielsen), it now needs women more than ever before.
Brands such as Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew, Carlsberg Edge and Foster’s Twist have all been – if not overtly selling themselves as women-only – keen to show their feminine side. Michelob and Cobra have been among a handful of brands courting women with low-calorie versions.
Coors Brewers has been leading the rush to grab the female pound, targeting a clutch of new beers at women as part of its Project Eve research programme, involving women from all parts of its business in product sampling focus groups to find out what they like about beer and, just as significantly, what puts them off.
Coors says that only 12% of alcohol consumed by women is beer, and only 14% of women consider themselves to be ‘beer lovers’, defined as liking the taste of beer and being regular buyers of beer. A fifth of women are ‘beer flirters’, who could be persuaded to buy beer if only something could be done about the taste of it, though they’re not bothered about the idea of being seen drinking beer. A bigger challenge is the two-thirds who are put off by both beer’s taste and image – the so-called ‘beer avoiders’.
But marketing communications director Nicola Young says: ‘Women account for a significant proportion of spend in the alcohol sector, both in terms of consumption of the product and as purchasers for others, and as such are an important target group through their spend and influence on others.’
While Coors has created pink beers like Kasteel Cru Rosé and Grolsch Rosé with women in mind, its project has also looked at the way beer is served and the places it’s served in. Young says bars and restaurants ‘have a huge role to play in making the environment for women friendlier and generally more appealing’. She says the biggest mistake bartenders make is not taking the time to learn about beer as they would other categories. One server she’d encountered recently could wax lyrical about the vodkas on offer but clammed up when asked about a beer.
‘This is clearly an area where we need to work closely with customers and provide them with the information and training that they need,’ says Young. ‘A lot of beer brands have an extremely rich heritage and the category is incredibly diverse, so the opportunities for stories is huge. The other area we need to explore more is challenging the format of beer. It is seen as a serve-as-it-comes product, yet it can also be a fantastic ingredient in cocktails and with mixers. Bartenders are the experts,
so we really need their input to see where this idea could take us.’
The challenging format of beer is backed up by research by the Campaign for Real Ale, (CAMRA) which has shown that one in three women think drinking from a pint glass is unfeminine, and 37% of women pub-goers aged between 18 and 24 would drink real ale more often if it was served in a more stylish glass.
.‘A lot of women would drink beer
but are put off by the big pint glass’
These figures are supported by Harriet Easton, who launched her own female-friendly golden ale while still a full-time student. Harry’s Beer has just moved from cask to bottle after the first test market in a bid to reach a younger female audience.
‘A lot of women would drink beer but are put off by the big pint glass,’ she says. ‘Also, a lot of real ales are called “Old this” or “Old that” and can be quite intimidating to younger people. It’s a predominantly male industry and I just wanted to do something more sleek and sophisticated.’
The beer itself is described by Easton as a ‘light, pale ale with orange undertones’, and the recommended serve is with a wedge of orange, a garnish also being favoured by Coors for its Belgian abbey-style Blue Moon brand.
The potential to get more women drinking beer is clear. Already, more than a quarter of CAMRA’s 87,000 members are women, and an estimated 25-30% of attendees at the 2008 Great British Beer festival were women too. These figures also demonstrate that brewers don’t necessarily need to produce sanitised or sweetened versions of their brands just
to win women over.
Beer writer and educator Melissa Cole, whose Girl’s Guide to Beer blog pledges to ‘take the beard out of beer’, cautions against brewers becoming too obsessed with creating what they perceive to be female-friendly brews. ‘I’ve got a great amount of respect for a lot of what Coors has been doing in this area,’ she says, ‘but there’s a danger that everyone just starts sticking fruit in everything and saying it’s a bird’s beer. It’s not the answer and is likely to do as much damage as it is good.’
Cole argues that better education around the universe of beers on offer will bring better long-term results. ‘If women say they don’t like beer I talk to them about what they do like when they drink wine or spirits, and try to find some common ground,’ she says. For example, Cole has pointed women who profess to like gin and tonic in the direction of Longdays, a fruity-but-bitter ale flavoured with raspberries, produced by Hall & Woodhouse, or traditional kriek cherry beers from Belgium. ‘A lot of people think krieks must be sweet because they’ve got fruit in them, but actually they’re very complex and sour,’ she adds.
She thinks bars should take some of the slack, too, in terms of communicating product qualities to women customers. ‘Brewers have to set aside some budget to allow bars to do something, but at the same time bars can’t say it’s all up to the brewers,’ she says. ‘The biggest failing for both pubs and bars is that they have wine lists with glowing descriptions of their wines but nothing for beer.’
Such a simple innovation could go some way to persuading more women that beer is for them – and you might not have to wreck your image with the next bland lager in a gaudy blue bottle.
.Numbers you didn’t know you needed to know, so you can know just what women don’t know about beer…
.Only 16% of women who drink alcohol have ever tried real ale.
.7% of women have drunk real alein the past three months.
.1% of women who drink alcohol drink real ale more often than anything else.
.13% of those who haven’t drunk real ale say they don’t know which ones to start with.
.12% of women say they don’t know what real ale is.
.12% thought it would taste bitter.
.6% thought it would taste flat.
.32% of women who have never tried real ale would do so if there was a way of sampling it first.
.18% of women who have never tried real ale would do so if bars highlighted which beers are brewed locally.
.Source: Campaign for Real Ale
Worried that women don’t find you attractive?
Concerned you’ll never find the woman of your dreams?
Doctor Nigel von Hugglebunny has had years of experience in helping lonely beers like YOU to settle down with the woman consumer of their dreams. His patented four-point plan has been successfully used ALL OVER THE WORLD. Even in Slough.
We’ve got eager female drinkers out there of every age, shape and type. Some want quiet nights in with a comfy stout, others wild nights out with a fizzy lager. Some want commitment, others want to dabble, even experiment.
But remember, there’s a lady drinker out there for YOU!
Simply read Part 1 of our form below to see where you have been going wrong, implement the actions in Part 2, then sit back and wait for the orders to come rolling in!
PART 1 WHY AM I UNATTRACTIVE TO WOMEN?
There are four reasons why women choose wine and cocktails over beer:
Coors says women don’t like ‘huge vase-like glasses, filled to the brim that aren’t easy to carry away from a busy bar’.
Beer isn’t perceived as special, but more as a boring everyday product, despite the presence of some superb speciality beers on the market.
A lot of women just don’t like the taste of beer, especially the bitterness of hops, largely a result of years of innovation around beers aimed at appealing to men.
These include the perception that beer is higher in calories than wine or that it contains chemicals, is downmarket or is for men only.
PART 2 HOW TO TURN ON THE CHARM
There are four key ways to turn Mr Wrong-ale into Mr Right-beer:
Try to convey some sort of story behind a beer – point out what makes it different and what its qualities are.
2 Recommend beers
People who don’t know much about beer love to hear what other people think.
3 Work on the presentation
Using good glassware and serving the right level of froth can make all the difference.
4 Table service
Coors had very positive feedback from women when it introduced sponsored servers for its beers to a number of UK bars.
Source: Coors Brewers research
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – January / February 2009