It’s time to look beyond ‘gendered’ food and drink

March 27, 2019
5 min read

In an era of gender-neutral bathrooms, makeup, clothing and airline reservations, it’s time for new food and drink products to move away from traditional “for women” and “for men” campaigns. This is especially true for products aimed at Generation Z and Millennials, for whom cisgendered tags find little resonance.

As Mintel’s trend, ‘The Next Genderation’ points out, young people are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes and embracing a broader range of gender positioning. Some consumers see products created for one gender or another as being trendy and not worth the money and it is not uncommon for consumers of all genders to buy beauty products and supplements, despite traditional associations. Consumers are looking for products that meet their needs, not products that force them into traditional gender roles or binary frameworks.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The food industry is lagging behind the curve

Some companies, like Coca-Cola, have made efforts to move away from gender stereotypes. The new Diet Coke is now “more gender neutral and diverse,” according to the company, with new flavors and packaging. It also picked up the non-gender specific theme in its 2018 Superbowl ad (“There’s a Coke for he… and she… and her… and me… and them.”)

One Day More Muesli For Her (Source: Mintel GNPD)

Other companies still rely on “pink for women” and “black for men” packaging tropes that aim to reach a single gender audience. In Germany, for example, One Day More Muesli For Her comes in a pink can, while in Poland, Stoczek Natura’s Cabbage Soup with Meat comes in a black tin, with a prominent ♂ symbol on the front of the package.

This type of positioning is especially common in “diet food” and foods tied to specific diet plans, which usually have a female focus, featuring slim female figures on pack, or other signals promising that women who eat or drink them will be able to lose weight and look “thin.”

Stoczek Natura’s Cabbage Soup with Meat (Source: Mintel GNPD)

Gender is also used in snack food and alcoholic beverages, with “girly” names or “manly” promises. Skinnygirl Cocktails, a US company, for example, uses a svelte woman for its logo and promises a low-calorie cocktail experience for women. The website encourages its users to “drink like a lady,” a positioning that is strangely out of sync with younger audiences.

Focus on biological sex, but not on gender…there’s a difference

A person’s biological sex is determined by anatomy, reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. A person’s gender can be determined by social roles or self-identification.

Marketing to biological sex-driven needs includes packaging, language and positioning “for men” or “for women.” Products to boost testosterone levels, for example, have a sex-based positioning, with packaging and language aimed at men, just as products to help with the effects of menopause or the needs of nursing mothers are advertised with women as the target.

As the concept of gender continues to change, it is time to look beyond “gender-focused” positioning (e.g. satiety for men, slimming for women) and present a more inclusive view of a product’s potential users.

Emphasize a benefit or a result

Gender-specific marketing attracts certain consumer groups, but it also runs the risk of alienating other populations. While younger consumers are more likely to approve of, or seek out products that reflect different gender identities or sexualities, for example, this is not always the case for older generations.

One way to sidestep the challenges of gendered marketing is to avoid that focus altogether. Instead of marketing along gender lines, market to the issue or solution being offered by the product. The move away from gendered marketing to positioning the product to satisfy a need (e.g. protein) or present a result (e.g. weight loss) has been seen in a number of products.

Satiety, protein, and weight management have universal appeal

Focusing on a specific need or condition (eg weight loss, satiety) provides a non-controversial answer to the minefield generated by gender-based marketing. Consumers are likely to agree that these conditions do not require gender-specific packaging or marketing campaigns.

Such an approach is especially likely to find resonance with younger consumers, for whom the issues of gender and sexuality are more top of mind.

Focus on product’s use

A product that solves a problem or satisfies a need tells consumers why they must have it, regardless of their gender identity.

For consumers, it is functionality that is the point of differentiation between products. Gender-based marketing has little or no effect on their decisions. Instead, consumers choose between products based on the products’ function, flavor, ingredients or other integral attributes.

Bring everyone in

With the ever-increasing choice of food and drink products, manufacturers are always trying to stand out. However, being exclusionary is no longer the best way to differentiate in the marketplace. Rather than making “for women” drinks or “manly” snacks, standing out now means bringing everyone in. A product that solves a problem or satisfies a need is more acceptable to a wider audience.

Marcia Mogelonsky
Marcia Mogelonsky

Marcia Mogelonsky, Ph. D. is the Director of Insight, Food & Drink, at Mintel. Her expertise focuses on consumer behavior across a range of categories.

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