Monday 27 April 2009

Getting the Coors Shoulder

The Seduction
I had a very short-lived love-affair with Coors just recently; it was much like all wild affairs, it started with so many promises, teases and temptations – then ended in betrayal and broken dreams as they turned out to be not the brewer I thought they were.

This big, strong, brewer wooed me by forming an all-female think tank, called the BitterSweet Partnership, to show me it cared; then tempted me in with research which showed when you really asked women why they don’t drink beer it wasn’t just taste - it was glassware and not knowing what to order, it was not realising how low in calories beer is in comparison to wine, spirits with mixers or the dreaded bag of peanuts.

It tempted me with findings about women’s feelings for the current state of beer advertising in the UK, that they knew that advertising like Foster’s and Stella 4% was rubbish and patronising – and I was hooked, because unlike any other big brewer in my life they really got me, they cared.

The Betrayal
But then the rumours started, I heard that they were being unfaithful to our passion, that they were going to be re-starting a relationship with someone, or something, (possibly called Zima) from over the pond – that they were cheating on our beer-love!

And it was true!

They were seeing this cheap tramp, this recycled failure of a concept, this syrupy, nasty ‘clear beer’ that even beer-rejectors don’t seem to like – this, this, Barbie-doll silicone implant of a beer has taken my place in their hearts.

They just don’t want an honest female beer drinker any more, in fact they don’t even want to listen to their own research.

You see, my former love had already told me that their BitterSweet research had uncovered that ‘cider and alcopops, which have targeted women more prominently in recent years, are only preferred by 6% of women’.

So why, oh why, were they starting a new relationship with something that is, in effect, an alcopop? And let me tell you about this floozy concept that’s been whoring around American for 13 years and has finally had to tout its services elsewhere when its pimps took it out of circulation.

A (currently nameless) ultra-fine filtered beer to take out all colour (and one presumes flavour), it is then pumped full of things like ‘dragon fruit’ and ‘green tea’, which merely creates a fizzy, synthetic and grossly sweet flavour, in other words it’s an airhead of a product – I’ve been dumped for a bimbo beer!

Moving On
But, don’t worry dear reader, my heart is on the mend because I’ve got a new love from America as well, and it’s the whole of the craft brewing movement.

That’s not to denigrate what UK brewers have been doing during National Cask Ale week, they have been proactively running tastings and beer events for women across the land, and have got some good results, St Austell and Hook Norton for example have been making themselves pretty attractive through their efforts to entice more women into the ale category.

These two breweries worked hard at tasting events on femALE day to introduce women to the beauty of beer, and have had a modicum of success at doing so and good on them.

But I’m afraid they just don’t have the allure, the pizzazz or the glamour of their contemporaries over the pond as was demonstrated at the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Boston.

And my current object of total adoration is Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing.

His presentation of a short film entitled ‘I Am a Craft Brewer’ is the single most powerful message that I have seen about artisan beer in a very long time and it has totally stolen my heart – watch it online and you will undoubtedly feel the same.

The video highlighted the amazing array of men and women who brew great beers in American and who are responsible for making craft beer the second fastest growing sector in the beer market, according to recent Nielsen figures.

It rightly points out that as the bigger brewers took taste out of their beers by using rice and maize, craft brewers became stronger and more popular, as society took their tastebuds out of their big-brand torpor and went in search of real flavour.

It talked about the honour of the craft brewing movement, its soul, and in the process cemented my undying affection for the US’s approach to artisan beer making.

What I thought was particularly powerful was that it ended with this quote from Nigerian poet Chinua Achebe: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”

Coors - and every other big brewer out there that thinks women’s hearts can be won with plastic flavours and patronising fruit-based malt beverages - please take note.


Anonymous said...

I did a piece myself on Coor’s BitterSweet partnership and I found them utterly laughable. Here’s what Kirsty Derry, managing director of BitterSweet Partnership said:
"The industry has for too long ignored and alienated women - our job is to redress this. BitterSweet Partnership is here, first and foremost to listen to women, to dispel the many myths associated with beer, to develop products designed with the female palate in mind, and to change the buying and drinking experiences for them. We love beer and we’re looking forward to the day when beer becomes an aspirational choice for women.”
So beer drinking’s an aspiration is it? What a load of old marketing claptrap. Personally if anyone thinks beer is great – and a lot of us do, why do we need to change anything? Why does beer need to be tailored to the female palate? Beer is beer you either like it or you don’t. If you don’t then drink what you like. I really am bemused by this whole idea that there has to be one beer for men and another for women, and I am also a bit fed up with the whole ale for female’s nonsense. Why can’t we just let women drink what they like?
Good piece by the way.

Unknown said...

You go, girl!! Back in the early 90's, I was in the test market area where Zima was introduced (Texas around 1994 / 1995). The women that I saw drinking it were the wine cooler crowd, except that wine coolers weren't served in the clubs, and drinking mixed drinks was too pricey for most at the time. It was a disgusting, sticky syrupy sweet concoction that made me gag!!!

I will drink beer EVERY time, and I always have. No need to change anything for me, I like my Pete's Wicked, Pyramid, and when I can find it Chimay. I avoid the "big" brewers and if given the choice of Bud/Miller/Coor's or water, I'll drink water, I'll enjoy it more.

If they want to change women's beer drinking experience, change the BS advertising practices. I don't choose my beer because it has 'less calories', or because it mimics a wine cooler. I will avoid beers that advertise themselves as a 'mans man' drink, that's just insulting.

I choose my beer because it's full flavored in a style I like. Better yet, I'm a homebrewer, I brew what I like, exactly how I like it!

Mark Dredge said...

It's a great video. Very emotive and makes you feel proud to be a beer lover and be a little piece of that movement. Achebe's quote is great and another one that I heard Koch say was that the Macro breweries get creative with their ad campaigns, the craft brewers get creative with their beers. That's pretty cool too, and so true.

As for the clear beer, well, it'll be creatively advertised I'm sure!

Fatman said...

Great post Melissa.

Kristy_BitterSweet Partnership said...

Hi Melissa, Kristy from BitterSweet Partnership here, sorry to hear you didn’t like the clear beer but thank you for the feedback! Obviously there are women who love beer already, but our research did show that some don’t like the taste. We’ve developed the ultra filtered clear beer (which is a completely new and exciting innovation) as a product which we think will appeal to one sector of the market, but as with everything, there are some people it won’t appeal to.

This is just one in a line of many initiatives we’ll be working on with BitterSweet. Others will include everything from changing glassware, to the way existing Molson Coors products are marketed to women – e.g. the sexist advertising you mention! The most important thing is talking to all women - from those who love beer, to those who don’t like it - to find out what they think. So we really value your feedback and would like to get your thoughts on future initiatives if that’s OK.

@Dave – we launched BitterSweet Partnership because we believe that the beer industry has, for too long, ignored women – and I’m speaking as someone who has worked in the industry for over 15 years.

Obviously there are women who do drink what they like. However, our research of over 2000 women showed that a third of women in the UK enjoy drinking beer, but feel uncomfortable and embarrassed to order beer outside of music or sporting events – so unfortunately there are very real barriers and myths that exist around women and beer.

As I said above, we’re working on a long line of innovations with BitterSweet, which include everything from altering the drinking environment, to advertising (42% of those polled think the industry should change its advertising first and foremost if it is to appeal to them). Most importantly, it’s about talking to and listening to women to find out what they want.



Anonymous said...

Hi Kirsty,

"our research of over 2000 women showed that a third of women in the UK enjoy drinking beer, but feel uncomfortable and embarrassed to order beer outside of music or sporting events – so unfortunately there are very real barriers and myths that exist around women and beer."

So why are you changing the taste?
Surely you should address the embarrasment that some of your responders feel - I've never met a woman who was embarrased to order what she liked.

Also, I'm still trying to figure out what you meant when you said:

"we’re looking forward to the day when beer becomes an aspirational choice for women.”

Feel free to enlighten me on that one.

ZakAvery said...

Great post, Melissa.

Kirsty, I don't think that anyone objects to Molson Coors designing a new female-targetted malt-based flavoured alcoholic beverage, I think that everyone's a bit perplexed as to why they are trying to pass it off as a beer.

Laurent Mousson said...


" Obviously there are women who love beer already, but our research did show that some don’t like the taste. "

Sorry to state the obvious, but women are human beings (abouth half of humanity), and indeed, as such, they have different views, political options, preferences in food and drink as well as likes/dislikes in the field.

My experience in leading beer tastings with all sorts of people has told me that the only thing I should expect from women is idiosyncrasy, surprise epiphanies for unlikely beers, and a greater open-mindedness in terms of taste than men.
Some women love heavy, malty beers, some love black roasty stuff, some love light, hoppy bitters, some would crawl miles for an over-hopped double IPA, and mind you, some even do like sweet fruit beers... but they re not necessarily that large a majority. :o>

The thing many of us beer buffs who've honestly considered opening the beer field to women object to, is this idea one has to pigeonhole "women" as "yet another market slot" whereas they're NOT a maket slot. They're a mere half of the global market !

The idea of "women's beer" is in itself as insulting as stating that "women don't like beer" or "women don't like bitterness".
Many campaigners, by the way, fare little better when they come up with "beers that might appeal to women" believing it may help introducing them to beer.

Consumers, women or men need to be empowered to believe they are right to like whatever they like, not held by the hand and led into what is fit for them as one would lead little children.

Consider chocolate. Can you seriously reduce it all to "women like sickly sweet milk chocolate with frothy fluffy pink plastic strawberry insides" ?
Of course not, as some women love dark, if not high-precentage chocolate (making them potential porter and stout drinkers), and some don't even like chocolate at all.
Thing is, some out of a half of humanity happens to add up to an awful lot...

Yet they should not be considered as anything but the diverse human beings they are, and treated with the dignity they deserve as such, not as freaks or whatever.

Welcome to reality. It might not fit marketing's view of the world. You'll always find women who are exceptions to whichever rule you're trying to put together, but using whichever exception to justify stepping back to the lazy threadbare stereotype of sweet, tasteless stuff "for women" is rather unimpressive

To be perfectly blunt : why doesn't Coors UK simply, honestly market its whole range to the women who might possibly like each particular product ?


Melissa Cole said...

Just wanted to say thanks for all the nice comments and for people getting involved - always nice to hear people's thoughts.

Sid Boggle said...

Kirsty, I'm interested in how Coors will "alter the drinking environment" for women. Where are you planning to sell this stuff?

And a personal question, which is, as somebody with 15 years in an industry which has ignored women, so you feel patronised by any of this?

-- Boggle

Sid Boggle said...

sorry, should have been 'do you feel patronised', not 'so...'

-- SB

Suzy said...

This is OT-ish, but to do with perceptions of female drinking tastes. I am the (female) Chair of the Real Ale Soc at York Uni, and I went with the rest of the society to the CAMRA Leeds Beer Festival a month or two ago. I was wearing a polo shirt with 'York Uni Real Ale Soc' and we had arrived at opening time, so I had hoped that my appreciation of good beer would be apparent. However, when I went to the main bar with another female member to get our first drink, we were accosted by a (male, and a little old) CAMRA volunteer who helpfully informed us at length that there was a good selection of fruit beers at the festival, and even a chocolate beer!

If two young women wearing real ale soc merchandise at a beer festival in the suburbs of Leeds face this kind of patronising attitude, we have a problem!

Laurent Mousson said...

Suzy, I must admit I'm not surprised... the whole industry lie about "women not liking beer" has sadly made its way into the minds of many well-meaning beer buffs, and not just in Britain. ;o((

I remember a staff member at a beer fest down here (i.e. Switzerland) a few years back trying to dissuade one of my - then young, petite, fresh-faced, blonde - cousins from ordering the thickest, darkest stout on the bar, because he could not fathom that such a frail creature could seriously be going for that scary black liquid... I had to point out she was my cousin for the reluctance to disappear instantly.

The point many people involved in beer issues seems to miss is that it's not about "bringing women to beer", it's all about getting the many women who already love beer to come out of the closet, giving social pressure and marketing the two-fingered salute they rightly deserve...

Maybe "ladies' beery coming-out parties" are the key, then ? ;oD

Unknown said...

You ought to read Phillip Van Munching's book, Beer Blast, for an account of how utterly disastrous Zima was in the US. Any beer marketer with a head would drop it and run away screaming if it presented itself.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

And now, without the typos....

One more point (even though it's vulgar of me to leave two comments in a row):

At many of my beer tastings I have women who at the start tell me they "don't like" beer.

At the end of the tasting, they invariably have an empty German weissbeer and/or a North American IPA in front of them and say something along the lines of "We still don't like beer, but we LOVE these. Where can we get them?"

I think that tells you all you need to know about beer in Britain. And (risking a deluge of ire) about women ;)

Melissa Cole said...

I don't entirely disagree with you there Pete, the thing is when you're starting from a base of people calling Carling beer you're going to get a lot of people saying they don't like it!

Pops at cheap lager aside, it was interesting to hear that most of the women surveyed for this said they don't like beer had only tried the commodity brand standard lagers and decided they didn't like beer on that basis.

I think what a lot of us overlook is that people say they don't like beer because they don't like low-taste lager brands, that's where comments like 'it makes me feel bloated' come from - ale doesn't do that, it doesn't have enough carbonation for a start!

I think the simple truth of the matter is not enough women haven't tried enough artisan beers and therefore decide that they don't like beer based on previous bad experience - job done, there's a drinks category already perfect for them in wine so why look anywhere else?

People like you and me - and every other pioneering soul doing tastings - are trying to change that but it's going to be slow!

Kristy BitterSweet said...

Hi, just wanted to respond to a couple of comments:

Obviously there are lots of women who are proud beer drinkers (myself and people on this thread included), but there are also woman who, for a variety of reasons, are too embarrassed to order what they liked as our research (of over 2,000 women) clearly showed.
BitterSweet isn’t about pigeonholing women as a ‘market slot’ – it’s about addressing all women as half of a market which have traditionally been ignored by the UK beer industry. We do want to raise awareness of the great products which are already out there that people may not be aware of and which they might love, and we also want to provide women with a wide variety of choice (which is why we’re developing new products like our clear beer).
And as someone with over 15 year’s worth of experience, I’ve seen previous attempts to target women which have either completely patronised us or failed miserably. That’s why I’m so proud and pleased to be involved in an initiative which is all about finding out what women actually want from beer and addressing these issues.


Kristy, BitterSweet Partnership

Laurent Mousson said...

Kristy, sorry, but when I read this :

"We do want to raise awareness of the great products which are already out there that people may not be aware of and which they might love, and we also want to provide women with a wide variety of choice (which is why we’re developing new products like our pclear beer)."

I get a rather clear impression that the attempts at raising women's awareness about "normal beers" are bound to be half-hearted from the start, because a comfy fall-back position is being readied from the start in the form of a sweet spritzy bubbly thing.

The problem, so far, is that global actors in the beer industry never had the pluck to go out and market beer to women - all women - without having such a parachute with them.
The concept may be meant as a bold move at head office, but by the time it goes down the pyramid and reaches the salespeople in the field, the guys and ladies who go out and sell the beer to baras and retailers, old reflexes are bound to take over, and the easy option of pushing just the sweet spritzy bubbly thing as "for women" will be the only message paseed on.

There's a major cultural shakeup needed all over the beer marketing food chain - including, as I've already mentioned, many well-meaning beer campaigners - if an such an attempt is to get anywere. In clear : You'll have to thoroughly deprogram thousands of salesmen who've sold beers for years or decades as a men's drink, so that they really believe as a hard fact that women are a diverse reality and as such will need the whole range to be marketed to them not just the condescending easy sweet stuff.

In short : are you, at BitterSweet Partnership, ready to put your colective foot where your mouth is ?

As a a somewhat seasoned beer campaigner with an Europe-wide scope, I'd be among the first to congratulate you if you did pull this one off. But more than a decade years cutting through the fog of brewers doublespeak have made me far too cynical to actually consider it as anything but unlikely.

So yes : do it and surprise me !

Nate said...

I doubt anyone is following this thread, but I found the post and discussion fascinating. Gender based marketing has always interested me, especially as our culture is blurring gender differentiation more and more.

And the "I am a craft brewer" film does bring a tear to my eye each time I watch it. It reminds me of those emotional videos big megachurches use to get folks on their knees. I was pleased to see the new old-world style brewery "the bruery" featured. I hope to join the ranks of those in the video some day myself as a craft brewer.

Melissa Cole said...

Potentially looking at the end of the beer tie in the UK - will be writing about it shortly - momentous doesn't do the event justice.

@ Nate - I can't figure out whether you're being self-deprecating or rude about my blog, or it's a typo! : )

nate said...

Please don't take offense, I am embarrassed if I came accross as rude. I love the blog...I am subscribed. i don't communicate well while at work, since I hurry through and don't proofread.

I thought this was an older blog post and perhaps the comment action had moved on to newer posts.


Melissa Cole said...

Hey Nate, no offence taken, it was a very tongue in cheek comment and thank you so much for your sweet comments, love writing it and adore that the followers of it want to debate any of the articles.

And good luck with the craft brewing ambitions, is it currently a dream or a work in progress?

nate said...

It's kind of both (dream, work in progress). I certainly can't imagine continuing on in the field I am in now. I've put a five year goal on it. I'm just trying to put together good, unique brews and networking to find a financier. If possible, I want to steer clear of bank financing.