‘Pretty’ beers for women? A rather tasteless idea

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If brewers want to entice women to drink more beer, they should stop their sexist adverts aimed solely at men
Women are put off buying beer by the sexism of most adverts.
A Mass Observation survey from the 1930s records that women in the north-west town of Bolton weren’t allowed to order at the bar of a pub. I had a vision of what these women might have felt like when I attended the launch of Animee on Monday night, a range of three “beers” specifically designed for women.

I was decidedly underwhelmed by the taste. Despite having some pretty pictures of hops on the bottle, if anyone can identify anything even approaching a normal beer flavour in any of these drinks I’ll eat my hat. The standard “clear beer” may have a passing resemblance to a weak lager shandy, but the lemon is simply undrinkable and as for the ros? version – pretty in pink it ain’t.

If the comments I received on Twitter last night, when I simply posted a picture of the new products saying “Thoughts?”, are anything to go by, I’m not alone in my despair at these products either.

Molson Coors, the multinational brewery giants behind “Animee”, are not the only ones to target female drinkers recently. Carlsberg also entered the battlefield last year with Eve, a lychee-flavoured beverage “based on malt and rice”. So why the mad scramble?

The brewing market faces some major challenges right now, with big brands in decline and fewer people going to pubs. Ironically, at the same time small breweries, which are putting an emphasis on provenance, strong tasting notes and exciting natural flavours, are seeing a sharp growth curve. We now have more breweries in this country than at any other time since the second world war.

Over the past few years the Society for Independent Brewers (Siba) has reported a 7.7% growth in its membership. This marks a stark contrast to the 30% decline in beer sales over the past 30 years, which can nearly all be attributed to the big brands. It’s certainly why Molson Coors snapped up Cornwall brewer Sharp’s earlier this year and, in a similar move, ABInbev bought Chicago’s Goose Island in the States.

But is a range of prettily packaged, flavoured drinks for the “ladeez” the silver bullet to all the woes of the big brewers? No, it simply isn’t.

Several pieces of research – ironically including one done by the Molson Coors’ “girly arm”, BitterSweet Partnership – clearly show that there are several factors that stop women from buying beer: a lack of education, too much gassy rubbish and ugly glassware. Top of the list, however, is that they find the inherent sexism in beer advertising and marketing off-putting – and there’s certainly little that says “it’s not pink and fruity enough”.

In fact, quite the opposite; when Professor Fons Trompenaars, one of Europe’s leading market research gurus, investigated this issue last year, he found it was the divide the brewers themselves had created between the sexes that has put women off beer.

What the female market most wants is to be more informed through unisex marketing and education. After years of adverts about groups of lads who can’t get into a cosmic nightclub or who shelter their pints in the shade of some Sheila’s giant rack is this all too little too late?

Big breweries need to ask themselves why more women don’t drink the beers they are already selling – and the answer is that they have busily been disenfranchising women from the beer market for the past 40 years and are now clumsily trying to entice them back. It’s the business equivalent of someone breaking up with you horribly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s.

Before I go I’ll leave you with this thought from Molson Coors marketing director Chris McDonough: “It’s important when launching a female beer not to be too patronising.” Oh, the irony.