There are exceptions, of course. Diageo’s Baileys and Halewood’s Lambrini are brands predominantly developed for and marketed to women. But marketers and product developers have worked on the premise that alcohol is predominately consumed by men in the pub with their pals or at home watching live sport.
Even categories favoured by women – wine, ready-to-drink and Light variants – have not explicitly targeted female drinkers.
This apparent reluctance comes despite evidence that demonstrates the increasing prominence of women drinkers, particularly in the on-trade. According to TNS data for the nine months to the end of September 2009, women accounted for 37% of on-trade volume, up from 26% in 2001, and spend £10bn a year on drinks.
So, it is unsurprising that drinks makers have begun to develop products and campaigns specifically aimed at women.
This week Carlsberg UK launched Eve, a 100% natural fruit spritzer drink transparently aimed at women. Female friendly properties include a relatively low alcohol content, at 3.1% and calorie count, at 135 per bottle.
Paul Davies, director of brands and insight at Carlsberg UK, describes the industry’s historic lack of engagement with female drinkers as “criminal”.
“The drinks business is a masculine industry dominated by mega beer brands”, he says. He adds that this situation has resulted in the industry being slow to explore the potential to develop drinks and new categories targeting women.
The BitterSweet Partnership, an initiative setup by Molson Coors a year ago with the stated aim of “changing beer’s reputation and its relationship with women”, has spent the last 12 months trying to speed the process up.
After polling 30,000 women over the past year, Bittersweet identified several hurdles to be jumped. A clear majority (79%) said they seldom or never drink beer, while a third of women think beer will make them feel bloated. Over a tenth (13%) said beer isn’t a drink they can enjoy with their friends, while over a third (34%) do not think beer is a good match with food. Crucially, 15% said they believe beer has more calories than other drinks.
Kirsty Derry, managing director of the partnership, says : “I want women to feel like they have a relationship with beer and to feel that beer plays a natural part in all social occasions, including when they want to unwind and have a bit of ’me’ time. I want brewers to talk to women, to hear what they have to say and to make the beers that women want”.
In addition to identifying some of the challenges, Bittersweet also identified opportunities to open up the market by improving women’s experience of beer. Almost a fifth (16%) stated the way a drink is served is a major factor in influencing choice, while a quarter (25%) said new glassware would make a beer more appealing.
Both Carlsberg and Bittersweet intend to use marketing channels that exploit what they believe is a woman’s tendency to enthusiastically recommend products they like. Social media sites will be used to build what Derry describes as “advocacy”.
Bittersweet is now switching its efforts to grow the female beer category and will begin to trial some of its product later this year. It says it wants to grow the percentage of beer sales attributed to women to 14% by 2012.
It adds that targeted beer products would help persuade women to switch from wine, which it claims is the default choice for women drinking in mixed groups, a change that represents a potential market worth £75m.
Derry says “This untapped market represents a huge opportunity for us to make a real impact in the beer industry”.
It is clear from the time and effort deployed by Molson Coors and Carlsberg, as well as the growth in the on-trade, that there are opportunities for drinks producers and their marketers to pursue. It is also clear that women demand a different experience, level of choice and relationship with alcohol from those developed for male consumers over a long period.
The industry will be following the lead shown by Molson and Carlsberg because the sales potential is significant. As Davies predicts “the big alcohol players will continue to aggressively target women going forward”.