The flavoured drinks revolution has hit the shelves

Sometimes it seems that every time I blink my eyes a new flavoured alcoholic drink is introduced to the market. From honey-infused Jack Daniels to ready-to-serve Strawberry Bellini wine cocktails, innovation in the drinks market has become almost synonymous with adding sweet or fruity flavours.

What drives this extraordinary infusion-fest? Many players in the drinks industry appear to have decided to invest in product development as a way to broaden their consumer base. While young consumers in general remain an important target market, women in particular have caught marketers’ imagination, as they are underrepresented in categories such as whisky and beer. Attracting more women would allow brands to tap into a vast yet underexplored market.

As a result, a wide range of drink brands are now vying for female attention, and are using sweet flavours, girly colours and low-calorie products to get it. Chocolate-infused wine, raspberry-flavoured beer, a multitude of spiced rums, we have seen it all! Even Courvoisier, firmly rooted in what used to be the male-oriented Cognac category, is jumping on the bandwagon with an elaborate cocktails campaign.

Good marketing avoids being ‘pink and patronising’

Though purists no doubt are horrified by this flavour revolution, drinks companies have decided that it makes good business sense to invest in it. This point of view is supported by Mintel’s research into the dark spirits category, which found that 61% of consumers say they would try a new flavour if a friend, relative or barman recommended it. With 32% of respondents saying they are more likely to try a new dark spirit if it is flavoured, there definitely are opportunities for these products to attract new consumers (see Mintel’s upcoming Dark Spirits-UK-August 2012 report).

Already flavour innovation has been tremendously successful in some categories; cider has experienced significant growth in the last few years, with women’s interest in pear and other fruit-flavoured ciders boosting sales (see Cider- UK-February- 2012). In the US, low-calorie cocktail brand Skinnygirl has become the fastest-growing spirits brand with a reported annual growth of 388%. Done well, flavoured drinks have huge potential and can appeal to both women and men.

However, complacency is out of order, and it is inadvisable to rely on outdated stereotypes. Product launches like that of Animee, Molson Coors’ 4% abv, low-calorie flavoured beer, raise the question when being bang-on-trend turns into trying too hard. When it comes to wine targeted at women, Bloomberg’s wine columnist Elin McCoy has gone so far as to call most of them “long on legs, but short on flavour” and “neutered commercial plonk”. Clearly ‘cutifying’ products doesn’t guarantee success, and adopting a patronising ‘if we pink it they will drink it’ stance is a dangerous strategy for any brand.

Can’t we go beyond ‘lady booze’?

As consumer research by Mintel shows, honey-flavoured whiskey and spiced rum appeal to a larger percentage of men than women, highlighting that it takes more than sweetness to get the girls. As a big fan of various craft beers as well as of chocolate-infused wine, I’m hardly impervious to the appeal of sweet new flavours. But while flavoured drinks may have potential to draw in female consumers, I wonder if the drinks companies aren’t still missing a trick.

Figure 1: Level of interest in new types of drink, April 2012

Base: 1,677 internet users aged 18+, who drink alcohol


Spiced Rum

Pineapple Flavoured Cider

Strawberry Flavoured Beer

Honey Flavoured Whisky

Chocolate Flavoured Wine

Marmalade Vodka

None of These

































Source: GMI/Mintel

By creating feminised versions of drinks in traditionally male categories, brands are effectively creating ‘lady booze‘, implicitly reaffirming the preconception that regular, traditional beer and dark spirits are still very much male products. Though there is nothing wrong with catering to a sweeter palate or providing low-calorie options, brands should be careful not to pigeonhole their consumers based on gender, and realise that women might actually enjoy many of their other products as well.

Sainsbury’s sales figures show that young women are buying more premium bottled real ale than ever before, and favour not only flavoured beers but also golden ales such as Fuller’s Golden Pride. Meanwhile the Guardian has found that though they still are lagging behind men, an increasing number of women are drinking stout. The Scotch malt whisky society is also seeing record numbers of women join its ranks, with female interest in whisky growing in the US and India as well.

So with women gradually warming up to these categories, it appears the main challenge is to convince them to give drinks a chance, without feeling like a man for doing so. Campari America is working to meet this challenge through its “Women & Whiskies” program, organising live events where women come to sample different drinks and ask questions about whisky ageing, regions of origin and taste differences in a rookie-friendly environment. For a look at what’s coming next, the D&AD 2012 Student Awards illustrate how spirits brands could use style and humour to appeal to women in the 21st century, which hopefully will inspire more exciting innovations in the future.

Learn More?

If you want to know more about flavoured alcoholic beverages or other developments in the UK drinks market, please have a look at the following Mintel Reports or contact us online.

Beer – UK – December 2011

Cider – UK – February 2012

Champagne & Sparkling Wine – UK – July 2012 (upcoming)

Dark Spirits – UK – August 2012 (Upcoming)

Drinking In the Home -UK- June 2012

Drinking Out of the Home – UK- July 2012

Wine – UK – September 2012 (upcoming)