As women comprise half the population one wonders why it took a brewer this long to look more deeply into women’s relationship with beer and why women have been largely ignored in the drive to sell more of it.
“It’s almost embarrassing to have to answer the question but it’s a very male industry focused on male drinkers,” explains Kristy McCready, Communications Partner with the BitterSweet Partnership, a project to change women’s relationship with beer in the UK, “Pubs have been historically a boys’ club, a man’s preserve and we have played up to this stereotype as an industry”.
Molson Coors was one of the first onto the beer-and-women band-wagon with its BitterSweet Partnership to change beer’s reputation amongst women.
“It’s now time we faced up to the spending power that women have,” points out Kristy, “They bring significant growth opportunities to the beer category, a category that’s been in serious decline for the last 40 years. It’s not acceptable to ignore half the population.
“A surprising amount of women actually like going to the pub for a beer. One in five women prefer to have their beer in the pub rather than at home, but it has to be about the experience.”
Over 60 per cent of women in the UK don’t drink beer, she says, making Britain the lowest for female consumption outside France, “Only 12 per cent of beer is consumed by women here. In the US it’s 24 per cent, Ireland it’s 36 per cent and Spain, 40 per cent.
“We wanted to find out why and how we could change that, to make beer more relevant and acceptable for women.
‘BitterSweet’ just about sums up the relationship women have with beer. It therefore seemed an apt name for the project which also questioned 30,000 UK women in their homes, in restaurants, supermarkets and pubs for it to dawn on Molson Coors that, like most of the beer industry, it doesn’t have an understanding of women in this market at all, at all.
The questions found that while women might consume it on holiday, at a football game or when they simply want a long drink that’s refreshing, they’d never drink beer when with their girlfriends, on a date or at dinner.
Over half of UK women claim wine to be their drink of choice. So BitterSweet asked them what had to change to make beer more appealing to women.
Surprisingly, advertising topped the list.
“Over half said ‘Stop patronising us with sexist beer advertising’,” says Kristy, “They asked, ‘Why should I be interested in it?’
“So it wasn’t the taste, but the advertising.”
The serve too is important. 31 per cent said the glassware is ugly, not exactly a stylish accessory on a night out.
“It’s got to be about getting the serve right, offering nice glassware, offering choice. No pub would ever have only ‘red’ and ‘white’ wine on their wine list.
“To offer choice and education, it’s important to have knowledgeable bar staff,” says Kristy, “Get the basics right. Women want a welcoming bar, clean throughout and offering great service, so it’s about doing this well.
“Think about the food-matching opportunities. Pubs offering food often do this with their wines and I’d love to see this happen for beers too.”
The UK could certainly look to other European countries for its beer future, countries such as Belgium, for example, where a selection of beers are served in beautiful glasses, with waiters who deliver the beer to you on a tray and make it that bit special, she says.
BitterSweet has begun looking at the Irish situation with a view to learning from the Republic rather than the other way round, she says, as the amount of beer being consumed by women here is three times higher than in the UK.
“It’s obviously more comfortable for women to drink beer there. Coors Light did a great job,” she claims, “Some 70 per cent of it is drunk by women in the Republic of Ireland.
“The basics we mentioned earlier are all commonplace there already. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Coors Light in Ireland that wasn’t served in a chilled glass.”
In the short term Kristy would like to see Molson Coors nail the situation “… women being offered good glassware when being served in pubs”.
And it’s not just the on-trade that needs to spruce up its act. She points out that the beer aisle in the average supermarket lets itself down.
“It looks like a Cash & Carry” she explains, “and 50 per cent of women tell us that buying beer there is about as exciting as buying canned veg so there’s a lot that can be done to bring the category to life; we’d like to see recommendations and tasting notes on-shelf to make beer-purchasing more interesting.
“After all, 80 per cent of all supermarket shopping is done by women, so it’s only right that beer suppliers should appeal to women more. Make it look more appealing and attractive and you’ll get more women into purchasing beer.
“It’s got to be about treating beer with the right amount of respect. I don’t like to see it sold as a commodity. I’d like to see below-cost selling stopped immediately and better information and education in pubs as well as the cessation of demeaning women in the marketing of beer.”
Eventually, she hopes that brewers will really get to understand women and adapt the way they talk to them.
“The days of having a bikini-clad girl in a beer ad should be long behind us but sadly, that’s not the case,” she says, “I’d like to see women marketed to in the right way going forward.”
It’s important too to break down the myths about beer, “… that it’s very ‘manly’, it’s fattening – 15 per cent of women thought a pint of beer was more fattening than a bowl of chips and believed wine to have less calories, yet beer has less calories. Women still see the term ‘beer-belly’ but there’s no such thing. There is, however, a pizza- or kebab-belly….
“If we could get beer thought about in a more positive way, we’d be happy to break down these misperceptions through women’s magazines or talking about the calories in a beer ad and so break down some of the taboos about beer. If this was coupled with the industry getting serious about marketing to women, then I think we could all go a long way.”