Friday 22 July 2011

Back to the Snug Age

Here's the pre-edit version of the article that I wrote for Guardian Comment is Free in case you need a little 'light & fruity' reading for the weekend - I'm off on holidays, so please play nicely in my absence!

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.


Anonymous said...

I still can't get past certain parallels of these, launched almost 10 years ago. They ended up trying to give pallets away. I remember getting free samples when working at Tui Brewery and the only drinkable one was the lemon-lime version... Funny enough Monteiths Radler came out soon after. Hmmm...


Kristy said...

Mark Hunter (Molson Coors CEO) and Chris McDonough both said 2 things that are incredibly important

1. At Molson Coors we want to return the beer category to growth and to do that we must offer choice so that more people choose beer more often

2. At Molson Coors all of our innovations are developed with consumer insight at the heart

And that's why Animée has been launched - to help reverse 40 years of category decline and the fact that 79% of women never or rarely drink beer and because Animée has been developed with women at every stage whose feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

There's no denying that small breweries are experiencing growth but in order for them to continue to prosper we must have a healthy beer category and ensure that we are keeping drinkers in the category and not losing them to wines, spirits and ciders. The beer market faces some major challenges just now - one fifth of the total UK beer market has disappeared in just six years and beer sales in pubs are down by over 30% in the same time (or 5 million pints per day). Against that challenging back drop just 17% of beer in the UK is drunk by women, the lowest of almost any country in the beer drinking world.

Some harsh statistics which means for the brewing industry to continue to ignore the wants of 50% of the population would just be madness. Women’s relationship with beer in the UK is fundamentally broken and we won’t fix that without doing something very different. Beer is the most inclusive alcoholic drink there is and while we recognise there are women currently drinking beer every study shows sadly they are in small numbers, we must offer relevant choice to get more women choosing beer.

We have done extensive research of over 30,000 women, more than anyone in the industry including beer drinkers and non beer drinkers, and there are a number of factors that need to be addressed to get more women choosing beer – advertising, education, and glassware to name just a few and these are things we’re looking to address too. What we do see is just about every other category – from soft drinks to skincare to chocolate - offer different products for men and women and that is seen as the right way to sell, why should beer be any different?

Is Animée the way to encourage more women to choose beer? For lots of women, absolutely yes. Animée has been developed with women at every stage of the process who see it as a beer they would drink instead of other categories which is great news. For all women? No, but to offer just one solution to the problem would indeed be patronising – we must offer choice. The right glassware and packaging for women currently drinking beer and the right beers for those rejecting it currently. Only by doing all of those things can we hope to get more women choosing beer.

Melissa Cole said...

@beerevolution so what happened to them Kelly?

Melissa Cole said...

@Kristy I'm sorry but Animee is not beer, I don't care how it's made, by no measure of what anyone who drinks beer judges a brew would they say these products resemble beer.

Perceptions, advertising and everything else aside - people will only move onto the wider beer category if the product they are given as their entry point bears a flavour resemblance to the wider market, and Animee ain't it I'm afraid.

I understand that you've done your research, but do you know what Kristy? So have I.

I've converted hundreds of women and men to beer by taking into account their personal preferences, asking them what they normally drink, asking them what they normally dislike about beer and the matching them to an appropriate brew.

How do you do that on a macro level? I don't know, but then again that's not my job.

I'm afraid whilst I think a lot of what Molson Coors is doing, moving to 100% barley with Carling has improved the flavour profile immeasurably (not that new I know) and I'm positive the lower-gas Carling Chrome will be a success as it's not just women that feel bloated, it's the most common comment I get from blokes about lager too.

I also like the eco-thinking behind the aluminium bottles, they aren't to my aesthetic but then that's okay, because I'm not their target market! I do, as a beer nerd, approve of their ability to protect beer from light strike however! :)

However, I'm sorry, but Animee sticks out like a great big, and very pink, sore thumb.

It's not Molson Coors' ambition, or genuine desire to bring women into the beer category I have a problem with, it's the product and its execution.

You've been quoted previously as saying: "You can't just make it pink, put a straw in it and call it beer for girls."

And this product is different how exactly?

Gary Gillman said...

Is Carling lager in the U.K. now an all-malt product, or is it that the malt component in it is derived now only from British-grown barley? Any clarification is appreciated.

Molson Coors deserves kudos for the William Worthington initiative. The increasing availability of White Shield and the plans for Red Shield and other real ales sound very good.

Regarding beers designed for a female base, I have no marketing background, but I would ask them this general question: Given the fall-off in beer consumption and sales noted (setting aside spikes for real beer and some craft beers), where is the loss going? I believe per capita alcohol consumption is not falling.

Is the shift going to wine or spirits drinks (with white spirits often being consumed in a mixed or flavoured form)? If so, can we not conclude that the taste of lager (the pub staple) as generally available to date has not appealed to enough people, men or women? I would think that beers that taste of beer and taste good would be an alternative for these people. If more fine beer had been available and (more importantly in my view) promoted and explained to the mass market by the large brewers, might the fall off in sales not occurred or been significantly slowed?

I think many people people who like, say, Riesling wine, or Sauvignon Blanc, have read articles in the press or online, bought books, joined wine clubs. And they learn about petrol flavours (hmm, not immediately appealing one would think), or gooseberry, and so forth. They learn about wine and find people to tell them about it one way or another. They acquire tastes.

If, rather than asking what people what they want in a beer (how do they know necessarily?), the big companies ran a campaign to tell people what is in beer and what a traditional beer tastes like, I think more people, men and women, would drink beer. They would drink better beer and pay more money for it.

My view is that the average quality of beer has been allowed to fall too low, this almost worldwide. Perhaps this had a certain logic to keep the price down, but you don't want(ultimately) to throw out baby with the bathwater either. I say, tell people what good beer is and why it tastes as it does, and they will - many of them, be willing to learn and try new things.

Beer writers and beer lobbies such as CAMRA have been doing this for decades now and look at how the craft segment has grown. Maybe not by leaps and bounds but it has added much interest to the industry and ensured availability of some fine-tasting traditional products - not to mention creating a few new ones (bourbon barrel or coffee-flavoured stout, anyone?). The big brewers might take a leaf from their book.