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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Do women need their own beer?

Alongside beer styles, craft beer, cask versus keg and other such burning issues, the notion of 'beer for women' reared its head again this week with Molson Coors' launch of Animee, a new attempt to persuade the 79% of British women who don't currently drink beer to start doing so.  I was at the launch on Monday night. So was Melissa Cole, who is true to form in her outspoken views on the subject here.  Sophie Atherton also weighed in on the Guardian blog here.

I agree with the gist of what both are saying, but not on every single point.  I also get a sort of itching in my brain when commenters who have not seen, smelled or tasted these products dismiss them as 'piss'.  How do you know?  Even when I slag off something like Stella Black, I taste the damn stuff first.

I believe the launch of Animee is misguided and flawed, but there are some good points in there if you look hard enough.  I'll sum this up in a list of positives and negatives, to make it easy.



Negative:
The whole idea of a beer for women in the first place. It's never worked, because it's not what's needed.  I'm not surprised Melissa feels patronised - I'd feel the same if someone tried to flog me a 'wine for men'. As Melissa points out, women don't want a product that segregates them - they just want a product that doesn't actively alienate them.  Wine, cocktails, cider and premium spirits are neither masculine nor feminine, and they all seem to be doing just fine.  The only reason beer is overtly masculine is the long heritage of macho advertising in the UK - beer is far more unisex in other countries.  In Spain, 40% of total beer volume is drunk by women, and it's mainstream lager, same as here.  (Nice mainstream lager though, it has to be said.)



Positive:
The fact that Molson Coors are trying.  This was presented on Monday as part of a broader programme of ideas and initiatives to really promote beer across the board.  Molson Coors are a big multinational brewer who talk about beer in marketing speak (the subject of another piece). But I get the impression they do actually care about beer.  They show signs of understanding it, and respecting it.  Growing Sharps and Worthington are as much part of their plan as boosting Carling - which, by the way, also got a shout on Monday night.  A new 4.8% 'premium' version, Carling Chrome, is bland, pretty tasteless, but not watery and without the nasty aftertaste some of these beers have.  On the beer for women thing, they've spoken to tens of thousands of women and really got to the heart of what's keeping them from beer.



Negative:
Given all that research, I just don't understand Animee as a response to it.  The main barriers are all about image - not the product.  So why launch a different product?  I find the beers that convert women who 'don't like' beer tend to be very strongly flavoured - American IPAs or Imperial porters and stouts - because these women are currently drinking wine that has comparable characteristics.  I don't see the need to launch a product that doesn't actually look or taste like beer at all, and don't understand how a product that doesn't look or taste like beer, that has different language around it from beer ('clear filtered', 'lemon' and 'rose' anyone?) is going to attract women to drinking beer more generally.  It's actually only beer because Molson Coors say it is - it's not going to change anyone's attitude to what 'beer' is or can be.  Any women who drink this will do so despite it being called beer.



Positive:
It might not be beer, but actually I thought the product wasn't bad.  It wasn't remotely like beer, but I did enjoy it, especially the clear filtered one.  Light and refreshing, it would be a pleasant summer drink, an alternative to mainstream cider.  I also think the packaging, if you look at it for what it is, manages to be unisex and quite stylish, a few beers cues here and there, not too girly.  I know, I know, it's in clear glass.  That is a marketing decision because - and I say this as someone who has done countless focus groups over the last 15 years - every single drinker who is not knowledgable enough about beer to know about light strike says they overwhelmingly prefer clear glass.  It just looks better, and for many drinkers, beer is about style over substance.  Of course I don't agree with that or like it, but it's true.


So overall, I suspect Animee will go the same way as all other attempts to market a beer specifically for women.  But I hope Molson Coors don't give up.  I hope they will try some different strategies.  And I hope other big brewers will follow their example.  I also hope they will read the comments from the many women responding to Melissa's and Sophie's pieces saying there are beers for women, in the shape of cask ale.  And I also hope they will look very closely at this:


Project Venus is a collaboration between female brewers. On 28th July, Kathy Britton, of Oldershaw Brewery, Sara Barton of Brewster's, Michelle Kelsall from Offbeat Brewery, Sophie de Ronde from Brentwood Brewing Company and Sue Hayward from The Waen Brewery will gather at Oldershaw's to brew their second cask ale. The whole thing will be filmed by Marverine Cole, AKA Beer Beauty.

Of course Project Venus is tiny compared to Animee.  But I'd be fascinated to see a side-by-side tasting of the two, and see which women prefer.

28 comments:

Pete Green said...

A great post, until the very last line.

"Women" will not prefer either. Some people who happen to be women will prefer one, and some will prefer the other.

There might be a gender bias in that more men prefer A than B and more women prefer B than A, but you'd need thousands of them taking part in a blind tasting (probably not even telling them its beer, as that sets up all sorts of expectations) to show it to be significant.

Curmudgeon said...

It does have to be recognised that many women are put off drinking beer by the perception that it is heavy and/or gassy, bloating and fattening, and its laddish, pint-swilling image.

The response that I have seen in some quarters that "if women were prepared to try Old Stoatgobbler they would realise what they're missing" isn't really very helpful.

Bailey said...

I agree with all of that. The comments on Melissa's article on the Guardian were bizarre -- as if lots of the commenters hadn't read the article before commenting ("How can you say we need beer for women!") and, as you point out, they were very quick to describe this beer as "Euroswill" and "piss". A bit hysterical.

Neither Boak nor I would ever buy this beer because it sends out all the wrong signals to us, and there are already more good beers out there than we've got time to drink, but we're not going to get angry about its existence.

On a side note, a female friend who stayed with us recently said (paraphrased) that she'd never liked beer until she went to a brewpub in Chicago and tried a proper IPA. Now she's obsessed with IPAs. Don't think this beer would have had the same effect.

Ewan said...

Indeed, regarding your first point my friends over at Freaky Trigger have already imagined this possibility of wine marketed to men...

michael-j said...

Other than the unecessary curved cut-off corner, the label looks great on all points (typeface, layout, graphics, etc).
Another positive is that it shows that there are different colours of beer - anything that helps in this regard is a good thing IMO

The Beer Nut said...

I find the beers that convert women who 'don't like' beer tend to be very strongly flavoured - American IPAs or Imperial porters and stouts - because these women are currently drinking wine that has comparable characteristics
In my experience it's been dark Belgian abbey and Trappist ales, but otherwise, this rings very true to what I've noticed.

I'd love to know the reasons the big brewery marketing people haven't noticed it.

They should put me on of them beer-for-girls focus groups.

h3xty said...

Michelle Kelsall of Offbeat Brewery in Crewe will also be part of the second Project Venus brew, as she was the first.

h3xty said...

Michelle Kelsall of Offbeat Brewery in Crewe will also be part of the second Project Venus brew, as she was the first.

SteveF said...

I think I mentioned elsewhere that Animee makes me instantly think of Anime. I don't know much about marketing but it strikes me as an odd choice of name, particularly as I guess it will struggle to find its way on Google what with the sheer mass of Japanese cartoon stuff out there. But I don't know much about Google either, so maybe I'm wrong.

On the general subject, in my local the Southampton Arms, I'd say that there are almost as many women drinking there as men, all of them putting away fine ales. So clearly there's no fundamental physiological or psychological barrier out there preventing more women drinking beer (and hopefully good beer). But I recognise that you can't really scale up from the odd quality pub in London (and elsewhere) to the entire market.

Pete Brown said...

Apologies, amended and added Michelle.

Chris Hall said...

Great post.

As others have said, it may get women to try THAT kind of beer, but it won't necessarily be the 'gateway' drink that gets non-beer drinkers into more complex stuff.

That 'Eureka' effect that people describe IPAs and Belgian beers having is interesting, because that comes from just the taste.

Is the taste of this really going to blow people away? Probably not.

I think the labelling is great, but I think Molson Coors money would have been better spent on more appealing glassware for their existing brands.

Martyn Cornell said...

This is the third attempt at launching "women's beers" that I can remember iin the past 25 years. The other two didn't work and I see no evidence that this one will, either.

The only "mainstream" brewer ever to advertise its product at women was Guinness, which ran ads in fashionable women's magazines in the 1960s - and Guinness is almost as far from the current "women's beers" as you can get.

PivnĂ­ Filosof said...

Here in CZ there are many women who don't like drinking pale lagers, but will gladly drink dark beers, which tend to be "sweeter", and wheat beers have also become a hit among them. I'm sure Molson-Coors has a Weizen or Wit like thing somewhere in their portfolio that they could market towards the ladies without being so lazy an patronising.

Lisa said...

Agree with most of the points above, and I'm also still puzzled as to how their 'research' was constructed and what the actual testing and results were - if the goal was something 'light' (despite ample evidence that we womenfolk don't have one-note palates), why not just bottle a nice hefeweizen or Berliner Weisse?

Slobberchops said...

A 'beer for men,' huh? I'm afraid someone else has already thought of that insult:
http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/new-white-wine-launched-for-men/

Alyssa S said...

Martyn- so interesting. Guinness for women. I love beer, all and any kinds, but Guinness isn't ever my first choice.

Alyssa
coolproducts.com

Gary Gillman said...

The comparison with Project Venus would be interesting indeed. From what I can see, the latter uses only malt and hops and that's a plus IMO. Beer should remain beer if it is to be called that.

Bailey's concluding remarks sum it up for me, but here is the thing: many, probably most, women but also men too, won't get the taste for a good beer naturally. If it was explained to them in advance why beer tastes as it does, they might take to it sooner. Few if any breweries do this to my knowledge. If you explained to people what malt is, what hops are, why they balance each other in the drink to a greater or less degree depending on style, they might think, oh, that's why it tastes like that, I get it now.

Before drinking craft beers and characterful imports, I had the taste for mass-produced lager and ale, acquired just by experience over time. But it was only by reading early beer literature that I understood what to expect in, say Guinness Extra Stout (which was a highly flavoured product in the 1970's as imported to America). Or in Chimay Red. Or in a Scotch Ale.

The old narrative type ads from the 40's and 50's which talked about the product - the product - seem a distant memory, now it is all lifestyle appeal basically or the blandest adjectival promotion. Tell the people what beer is! I think fewer focus groups are needed and more education. Given that beer is not a naturally acquired taste, people would benefit from a more pedagogical approach.

The beer writers created almost single-handedly IMO (with CAMRA and homebrewers and their groups) a segment of the beer business now established and respected in many countries, the craft brewing segment.

Why don't the big brewers take a leaf from their book?

Gary

Stephen Beaumont said...

Molson Coors, it needs be noted, is North America based. The strong rise in the sales of craft beers, even so-called "stealth" crafts like Blue Moon, has led to a steady rise in female beer consumers. In fact, I read somewhere recently that women are the fastest growing beer drinking demographic in the United States. One most definitely begat the other.

So what is it about this equation, occurring right in their own backyard, that Molson Coors fails to grasp? It is not fancy-pants flavoured and vaguely beer-like beverages that will lure over female drinkers, it's flavourful and interesting beer styles.

Dan said...

It makes me wonder, why do we as a society not get upset at the idea of a "fragrance for men" but the idea of a "wine for men" or a "beer for women" does upset us? I think "x for xx/xy" is pretty silly. A product's target audience is user defined, we don't need to sell "a tampon for women".

Eigon said...

Until I was 27, I was practically teetotal - all alcoholic drinks were a mystery to me. Then my boyfriend (later my husband) started to introduce me to real ales. He did this in Norwich, in fact at the Reindeer in the days when it had its own brewery, so I still have a fondness for East Anglian beers.
I think one of the things that put me off to begin with was the thought of going up to the bar, catching the bar staff's eye, and then not knowing what to say! And although my gran worked in a pub before the second world war, neither she nor my mum went into pubs on their own "in case people got the wrong idea about them".
I don't think that hurdle to women going into pubs is really there any more.
So, given a choice between a "beer for women" and Woodforde's Wherry - it's Wherry every time!

Thenoisethatwemade said...

Surely it's good that someone's actually trying to connect with women in the beer world? and it seems with a genuine interest. I don't know what the fuss is from Mel Cole. I think the Venus brew project is also great...but both Brewsters and Oldershaw brewery both have used marginally clothed female pin ups as font clip logos. Yawn.

http://www.oldershawbrewery.com/beer/our-beers/blonde-volupta/

http://brewstersbrewery.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/shes-back-the-american-beauty/

which could put off some women ordering as it could be seen as a typical ploy towards the male drinker. However it could also appeal to a women into the 50s scene! Wow us women really are complex creatures.

Let's get over it, I love beer, I'm an active Camra member, if I like the taste of something that's what counts.
Give beer a chance.

BLTP said...

How does this fair in comparison with say to "bloke coke" With coke zero specially developed to sell diet coke to chaps? Also isn't the production of animee deterministic anyway as they most likely started out with idea to make a women's beer and did the research that proved the case for making this product. Rather than say research into what women like about beer and promoting those qualities in their existing range including the appropriate branding.
Also the real/craft beer axis can't get on their high horse about this, as over at pumpclip parade when regularly have beers made by brewers who think that calling their brews "rape and stillage" is a good idea or that feature semi naked nuns being spanked on their labels or similar.

Chaz said...

There's a new beer in the States being marketed to women that someone on Facebook posted about... AB/InBev picked up distribution in some areas.
http://chickbeer.com/
http://www.facebook.com/ChickBrewing

Dan said...

Interesting timing: http://www.craftbeer.com/pages/news-and-events/news/show?title=the-love-of-beer-documentary-on-women-in-the-craft-beer-industry-premieres-at-pdx-beer-week

Texasdawn said...

I am a woman, and from time to time I drink beer. I do need my "own" beer but maybe not my own brand of beer as this blog discusses.

I am a SINGLE MOM and getting old. I have 3 teenagers and I need my "own" beer, 2 bottles of my own beer, alone, and uninterrupted. I prefer cold beer, but have been known to drink warm or even hot beer just as long as I am alone and uninterrupted. That means if I have to stash a beer in the garage before dinner in order to enjoy my 5 minutes alone with my "own" beer than I shall do so (with or without a fridge).I prefer to drink my "own" beer sometime after 5:30p and before 7:30pm so that I can take a deep breath and settle down to actually eat dinner. I prefer light, crisp beer, such as Miller Lite and would not go out of my way to purchase special beer. However, if someone made a light crisp blend of beer that was easy to find as I dash home in the evening, made with my preferred taste in mind than I might desire my "own" beer to be in 3 twelve ounce bottles rather than 2 twelve ounce bottles which is my current habit (about 3 days during the week). Therefore, as I contemplate this issue of whither women need their "own" beer I conclude that I could be persuaded to consume one more bottle during my uninterrupted 5 minutes if I felt that I was drinking a "woman's" beer rather than a "man's" beer.

Kristy said...

Great post Pete - I agree with the gist of what you're saying but not on every single point ;o)

Women are rejecting beer because of masculine advertising but that is just one reason and we can't ignore the myriad of other reasons that mean beer drinking amongst women in the UK is so low.

Animee has been developed with women at every stage of the process. In terms of methodology we have we’ve spoken to over 30,000 women (both non beer drinkers and beer drinkers) and spent time immersing ourselves into their lives to find out the alcohol choices and decisions they are making and why.

We have spent considerable time immersing ourselves into their daily lives e.g. accompanying them on their food and alcohol shopping trips / to the pub / attending a girls night in so I think our understanding of women's view of beer is second to none.

Animee is a beer that has proved to be hugely popular with the women who've tried it and is just one way that we will get women into the beer category.

As Chris said on Monday Molson Coors are in this for the long term, we really care about beer and want to see the category back in growth to do that we need to offer choice so that more people choose beer more often, for a lot of women Animee offers that choice and we're looking forward to it's success!!

@Curmudgeon you are spot on - all of the things you mention are a real issue, alongside advertising, only by addressing all of them will the vast numbers of women rejecting beer consider it a real choice.

A Bottle or Two said...

I blogged about this myself and you raise some interesting points, especially around image.

The only drinks i see as being feminine are alco-pops, while i do generally see beer a a manly drink (even though i know that women probably invented beer).

Melissa Cole was completely right though, women will most likely start to drink beer when it is not marketed specifically at men. The new Sourz Raspberry shows how both men and women can be targeted in one advertising campaign.

p.s. i am not advertising Sourz brands just because i mention them in my comment in case you were wondering

sussexbrews said...

All this wacky branding and celebrity endorsed (and co-developed) drinks reminds me of this old spoof from The Onion

http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-buying-not-so-much-a-soft-drink-as-an-ima,27/