This week was the official launch of Animée , a range of three ‘beers’ specifically designed for women, and beer writer Melissa Cole isn’t impressed at all – but why?
Did you know in the 1930s a Mass Observation survey found women in the north-west town of Bolton weren’t allowed to order at the bar of a pub? I think I saw a step back to that by the brewing industry the other evening when Molson Coors announced the launch of Animée .
Now, maybe I’m not very good at being told what to do, but the idea of a beer specifically designed for women really winds me up.
But why you may ask? Well, quite simply, what the big breweries need to be doing is asking themselves why more women don’t drink the beers they are already selling – and the answer to that is because they have busily been disenfranchising women from the beer market for the last 40 years and now seem are trying to entice them to return with tempting trinkets and shiny things.
It’s kind of the business equivalent of someone breaking up with you horribly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s! It’s both disturbing and ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m keenly aware of the challenges that face the brewing market right now, with big brands in decline and less people going to pubs, but is a range of prettily packaged, flavoured drinks for the ‘ladeez’ the silver bullet to all the industry’s woes? No, it simply isn’t.
Several pieces of research - ironically including one done by the Molson Coors ‘girly arm’ BitterSweet Partnership – clearly show the major barriers to women drinking beer are myriad; mostly it’s based around a lack of education, too much gassy rubbish and ugly glassware.
But, top of the list, is that they find the inherent sexism in beer advertising and marketing the most off-putting. There’s little that says ‘it’s not pink and fruity enough’.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When Professor Fons Trompenaar, one Europe’s leading market research gurus, investigated this issue last year, he found it was the divide the brewers themselves have 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 – not 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.
But why are the big brewers running so scared? Mostly it’s because where they are seeing a decline, 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 WWII and, over the past few years, the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) has reported a 7.7% growth for its members, a stark contrast to the 30% decline in beer sales over the last 30 years, which can nearly all be attributed to the big brands.
And, in case you think I’m picking on Molson Coors, which I genuinely feel is a business trying its hardest albeit in an epically misguided fashion, Carlsberg also entered the battlefield last year in an even more shameful way with Eve, the ‘shh, it’s not beer really ladies, it’s a malt-based beverage’.
I will give Molson Coors its due, it is trying to change that curve with what, at rough cut stage, looks like it might be a decent stab at some good unisex marketing - and I've yet to find anyone who doesn't find the Jean Claude van Damm Coors Light adverts truly entertaining.
However, I also don't believe that everyone can be bought by advertising (and am not so stupid as to think it doesn't matter either!) but I am on record saying I wasn’t going to fully comment on these products until I’d actually tried them and so, to the meat of the matter, what does the Animée range of drinks taste like?
Well, 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 shandy, but the lemon is simply undrinkable, closely resembling a locket, and as for the rosé version... well, if you want to hark back to your childhood days when your mum used to buy those cheap ice lollies from the ambient shelf to stop you whining about not being bought sweets - then you'll recognise the taste... because pretty in pink it ain’t.
And if the comments I received on Twitter when I simply posted a picture of the new products saying ‘Thoughts?’ I’m not alone in my overwhelming despair at these products either.
The reactions from both men and women ranged from @GuideDogSaint saying ‘way beyond contempt’ to @annie_dunn ‘that’s not beer’ and I don’t think I should print what @shoozographer said…
So, I’ll be interested in what you all think, but 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.