Women & beer have a love-hate relationship, but is a real romance in the air? Fiona McLelland highlights the work brewers have undertaken to try to inflame the female tastebuds.
The barriers blocking the way between women and beer are bigger than your average beer belly. Women are put off by beer's masculine image, they don't like drinking pints, and they're scared of what it might do to their waistline. Add to the mix the fact that many are put off because they don't think they'll like the taste.
Despite the barriers, there are signs that women are beginning to discover that beer is not just for big men with beards. According to the latest Cask Report, women now account for one in six of all cask-beer drinkers and the number of female beer drinkers has doubled to 1.3 million over the past year.
The numbers may still be low, but there is change afoot, according to Purity Brewing Co marketing manager Kirsten Smith.
"The difference in the level of interest from women at the recent Taste of Birmingham food festival compared to last year was amazing," says Smith.
She says that encouraging this interest makes good business sense as women have massive spending power and make the majority of purchasing decisions.
"Women have not only been neglected in the past, but alienated by the premium ale market and many brands are still far too masculine," says Smith. "In the past we have seen attempts to put beer in a pink bottle, but this simply does not appeal to women and now companies are making more of an effort."
Knocking down the barriers
The brewer Molson Coors is making more effort than most, having set up a specific business unit — the BitterSweet Partnership — to transform beer's image and relationship with women.
"The beer industry has alienated women by focusing primarily on men when it comes to product development, marketing and innovation, and UK women think beer is not for them, says Kristy McCready, BitterSweet communications partner. "Our aim is to come up with real solutions to encourage women to re-evaluate the beer category."
Since its launch last year, BitterSweet has spoken to more than 30,000 women about beer — nearly a third view it as a "manly" drink, 42% believe advertising has to change "first and foremost" to make beer more appealing, almost half believe they'll put on weight if they drink beer, and a quarter said the taste should be altered.
"We're not going to reshape the industry by simply launching beer products aimed at women," says McCready. "We need to look at the bigger picture and encompass the whole beer-drinking experience."
Over the coming year, BitterSweet is planning to introduce "new ways to drink beer", create innovations to change the taste of beer and launch myth-busting campaigns.
Molson Coors has already begun to market beer to women with the nationwide roll-out of female-friendly Blue Moon.
The unfiltered Belgian-style wheat beer is spiced with coriander and orange peel and served with a slice of orange. The brewery has also developed beer cocktails and trials in the Dial Bar, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, have seen a 26% uplift in sales of beer to women.
Its latest initiative is an I Love Shandy campaign, as revealed in the MA last week, which comes in response to the finding that 35% of women think shandy is a great drink but are often too embarrassed to drink it.
Creating 'female appeal'
Heineken UK research has identified "female appeal" as one of five key emerging trends for long-term consumer behaviour. In other words, the industry needs to respond by making pubs and bars more attractive to women and by creating long alcoholic drinks that appeal to their tastes. But be wary of becoming overly feminine, says Darryl Hinksman, head of on-trade customer marketing at Heineken UK, as women will feel patronised and men will feel alienated.
Instead, the industry should concentrate on presentation: women want drinks that are well-presented, stylish and elegant.
"Using the right glassware is vital to deliver the right serve and experience," says Hinksman. "The way a drink looks is an important part of how a drink makes a woman feel, so the basics must be right — a cold, clean correctly-branded glass and perfect serve every time."
He adds: "The pint measure is traditionally seen as male and is also too much volume for many women, so a stylish half-pint glass is a good option when serving beer to women."
Sharp's will be introducing a stemmed half-pint glass to encourage more women to drink its beer, and has already introduced a "lovely" glass for Chalky's Bark, which is flavoured with ginger and designed to work well with food.
Sharp's sees beer and food as a way to interest women in beer, and is running an event in October with its head brewer developing a menu with local Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw.
Its recipe cards will also be sent out with all online beer orders.
Don't call it beer
Carlsberg has taken a completely different approach and has enjoyed initial success with the roll-out of female-targeted Eve.
But the key to the marketing campaign is to label it as a "spritzer", with no mention of the word beer.
"The phraseology that came out when we were researching the market was 'spacer' and 'pacer'," says David Scott, Carlsberg customer marketing director. "We found that women were looking for a fresh, natural alternative to wine to help them slow down their alcohol intake and extend their evening. Eve is not about creating a beer for women, but reacting to market needs."
Carlsberg has targeted Eve at the 18 to 24-year-old market and is aiming for listings in 5,500 pubs by the end of the year.
Two thirds of the £3m marketing budget is being spent on activities in bars and pubs, including sampling campaigns led by the "Eve Divas".
Five months after launch, Eve is stocked in 1,700 outlets within Carlsberg's free-trade estate, 130 Greene King-managed pubs and 50 Luminar clubs, while JD Wetherspoon has also begun a trial.
Other activity includes glossy female magazine advertising, a social media campaign and a tie-in with nail bar chain Nail Inc. This September, celebrity Louise Redknapp will also be hosting Eve "swishing" events — that's a mass clothes swap for the uninitiated — for 1,000 women in Manchester and Liverpool.
Purity Brewing Co has found women are attracted to its brand because its fresh and modern branding appeals equally to males and females. The brewery was established in 2005 and has always avoided going down the "masculine route".
"Our female consumers want equal and unprejudiced marketing," says Purity's Smith. "We concentrate marketing efforts on activities that grab the attention of male and female customers alike. Our brand is clean, fresh and quirky and our black and white pump clips stand out from the competition. Too many other brewers' pump clips are fussy and masculine and immediately turn women off."
Purity, along with Holden's Brewery and Marston's, is sponsoring a new event run by beer-loving businesswoman and journalist Marverine Cole. Cole was inspired to create the Beer Beauty networking event after producing a feature on women and beer for the BBC.
"Women have felt alienated in the past and have the mindset that beer is for boys," says Cole.
"But as I've learned more and more about beer, I've also found that other women have an open mind and they want to learn more too."
Susan Chisholm, Greene King's beer-tasting tutor, puts the rising level of interest among women down to the proliferation of beer festivals and the work by regional brewers.
"There is an increasing interest in wholesome British food and drink, particularly among women, and this is reflected in the growing popularity of real ale," says Chisholm.
"Cask beer is a fresh, natural product with live yeast and lots of flavour — it's the bio-yoghurt of the beer world."
And she adds: "If you can overcome the barriers that some women have to trying beer, they will almost invariably find at le