Trying to halt a big decline in beer sales, some brewers in the U.K. are reaching out to a largely untapped group of customers: women.
Coors, the U.K. arm of Molson Coors Brewing Co., set up a unit code-named Eve this year to develop beer brands and marketing techniques appealing to women. The unit's mission, the company says, is to create “a world where women love beer as much as they love shoes.”
As part of the push, Coors recently began selling its Blue Moon label in London pubs. The beer, which hadn't been available before in the U.K., is aimed at women with touches like serving it with an orange slice to accentuate its fruity taste.
In the U.S., Blue Moon is mostly consumed by men, where it is also served with an orange slice. Coors is encouraging bar staffs in the U.K. to experiment with how they serve the slices. One pub coats the orange slices in brown sugar, says a Coors spokesman.
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Coors, based in Denver and Montreal, aims to launch additional beers aimed at women in the next year or two, says Coors Chief Executive Mark Hunter.
Eve found that beer's main competitors are wine and vodka, which both have become more popular with women in the past six years. A big reason is that women regard beer as fattening, Hunter says.
The beer industry made a mistake by neglecting half of the population, he says. “We've done something fundamentally wrong here.”
Greene King PLC, a 209-year-old brewer based in the east English county of Suffolk, launched a beer for women called St Edmunds in October. St Edmunds is stored colder than most beers, giving it a crisp taste that appeals to women, a spokeswoman says.
The industry faces many hurdles. Persuading women to drink more beer has been tried elsewhere with little success. Research by brewers has found many women don't like the smell and aftertaste of traditional beer.
It may be particularly tough in the U.K. Only 13 percent of U.K. women regularly buy beer, compared with 25 percent in the U.S., according to market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres PLC.
And overall, beer sales fell about 4.5 percent in the second quarter to 7.85 million barrels from 8.22 million barrels in the second quarter a year earlier, according to the British Beer & Pub Association. That's the least beer consumed on a daily basis since the Great Depression, the association said.
Beer sales are suffering because of a decline in the popularity of pubs, analysts say. Factors making this year particularly bad include a ban on smoking in pubs, the weakening economy and a cold start to the summer.
The decline is also big compared with consumption elsewhere. In the U.S., sales of beer rose 1.9 percent in the first half compared with a year ago, according to the Beer Institute, a trade group in Washington.
In targeting female drinkers, the beer industry also risks a backlash from its most loyal customers, men. Some brewers are trying to strike a delicate balance in promoting beers as “unisex” to try to attract female drinkers without losing male ones.
One beer that could appeal to women is Guinness Red, a beer introduced by drinks company Diageo PLC last year that tastes sweeter and doesn't have as strong an aroma as traditional Guinness.
At O'Neill's pub in central London, few women have tried Guinness Red because they don't know it is different than the traditional version, says manager Frank Donlon.
“Advertising would help explain that it's like a watered-down Guinness,” he says. “A TV ad would be good.”