Beer consumption -- and sales -- in Germany have been on the skids for years. Now, brewers are hoping a new generation of healthier, lighter beers will broaden the drink's appeal, especially among women.
Karlsberg's 'Karla' is seeking to win over health-conscious women
“Beck’s beer … it quenches manly thirst,” was the well-known advertising slogan for Beck’s from the mid-1950s to the 1960s. That chauvinistic tagline has since been replaced by the more inclusive, and urbane, English phrase “Welcome to the Beck’s Experience.”
But the earlier campaign may still be a truer reflection of the country’s drinking habits. In Germany, beer drinking is an overwhelmingly male pastime.
Despite the ongoing love affair between Germans and their national beverage -- Germany is the third largest beer-drinking nation in Europe, behind the Czech Republic and Ireland -- the country has one of the lowest percentages of female beer drinkers in Europe. According to a 2004 report by international market-research group Mintel, some 75 percent of German men, but only 29 percent of women, drink beer. In Spain and the UK, the percentage of women beer drinkers is close to 40 percent. Even Italy, where beer is seen as a new and trendy alternative to wine, has a larger percentage of suds-sipping women.
The large mugs typically served at Oktoberfest aren't very feminine
“Beer has a bad image in Germany among women,” according to Michael Busemann, of the Cologne Agency for Public Relations.
Last spring, Busemann created an ad campaign for the Cologne-based beer brand Gaffel Kölsch, whose 1970s flowery motif seemed tailor-made for a female audience.
“If a woman wants to drink something special, she’ll order a champagne, or wine," Buseman said. "The image of beer is that it makes you fat, or it’s associated with drunks. It isn’t considered chic."
More than ever, breweries have reason to try and change that image. Domestic sales and consumption have been in steady decline since the 1990s -- and women represent an obvious untapped market segment.
Brewers are now stressing beer's healthy properties
Part of the problem has been the purity laws governing German brewing. The laws hold that beverages labeled "beer" may only contain hops, malt, yeast and water. While these rules protect the integrity of German beer, they have hamstrung brewers in terms of developing new flavors and styles of beer.
But recent law suits over beers containing other ingredients, such as sugar, have shown that, with a little creative labeling, it's possible to sidestep the purity laws. The breweries seem to have caught on. Sweeter tasting beers, beers lower in alcohol, and a new explosion of “mixed beer drinks” containing fruit juice or cola are storming the market. References to “manly thirst” have been replaced with statistics touting beer’s healthy properties.
Riding the 'golden wave'
Birte Kleppien, spokesperson for the German Brewers’ Association, refers to this “very clear trend” toward marketing beer to women as the “golden wave.” Becks Gold started the movement, and was quickly followed by most of the other major breweries, she said. Suddenly shelves were filled with cheery-sounding brews like Bitburger Sun, Krombacher Extra Mild, and Karlsberg Blondes, whose ad slogan actually referred to it as the “beer for those who don’t really like beer.”
Beck's started the 'golden wave'
According to Karl Ullrich Heyse, of brewing trade magazine Brauwelt, these lighter brews have had “outrageous success” so far, but they are so new to the market that statistics are hard to come by.
Still, he cautions, breweries are unlikely to acknowledge that their beers are aimed specifically at women.
“You can’t offer women a product aimed only at women, because then they won’t want it," Heyse said. "Pure women’s products aren’t very successful.”
Smaller is better?
But Kleppien of the Brewers’ Association notes there are ways other than advertising to appeal to women. For example, even in parts of Germany where liter-size mugs are the norm, “some bars are starting to offer beer in smaller glasses. You can get 0.3 (liters), 0.2 -- even an aperitif glass. It’s a small revolution,” she said.
Hops contain antioxidants -- now more than ever
The new spate of “wellness beers” (mixed-beer drinks developed for an increasingly health-conscious public) offers the best chance for growth in the German beer industry – and they also appeal to women, Kleppien said. Over 3,000 medical studies show the health properties of beer (it is rich in B vitamins, silica, magnesium and antioxidants) when it is consumed moderately.
'Karla' a success
An antioxidant present in hops is thought to be useful in preventing cancer, heart attack, strokes and even Alzheimer’s. The Weihenstephan brewery in Bavaria recently found a way to concentrate the levels of this antioxidant, called xanthohumol, and is marketing its mixed-beer brew under the name Xan.
Karla -- sold in pharmacies, and aimed at middle-aged women
Germany’s Karlsberg brewery is going a step further in marketing beer as a health drink. It is market-testing a mixed-beer beverage called Karla, and will sell the low-alcohol, tonic-like mix of beer and plant extracts, folic acids, vitamins, soy, biotin, and lecithin, in pharmacies.
Karlsberg PR representative Marc Kirch notes that so far in its test phase, Karla is doing “better than expected,” and will likely go nationwide early next year.
“Women over 40 most frequently patronize pharmacies -- they tend to be a very health conscious group. So we originally aimed it at them,” Kirch said. But, he added, “Karla has done almost equally well among men, too.”