The idea to launch Chick Beer, says Shazz Lewis founder of the brand, came a few years back when she was at her husband’s beverage shop in eastern Maryland. Looking at cooler after cooler of beer choices she noticed “that not one was being marketed directly to women.”
She did some market research, made some inquiries and after some time exploring the male-dominated world of beer, Lewis reached out to a brewery in the Midwest and asked to contract a brew that she could label in hot pink and emblazon with “iconic symbols” like a little black dress and a purse. Now, since the 97-calorie light lager known as Chick Beer hit shelves in Maryland (Lewis says she is talking with distributors in Washington, D.C., New York, Florida and Wisconsin), the attention has come hard and fast.
“I didn’t want this to be a gimmick,” she tells Beverage Executive. “I wanted to offer [women] a choice. A really good choice, a light beer.” Specifically, Lewis, a mother of five daughters says she wanted to target the 21-35 demographic of “independent, self assured women” who might see the beer as “fun and sexy.”
According to a beverage poll released by Gallup in July 2011, wine was nearly split with beer as the top drink choice (35 percent vs. 36 percent with whiskey at 23 percent), but when looking at beer specifically there is a more dramatic shift with 48 percent of men saying they would first choose beer versus just 22 percent of women.
Lewis talks a lot about taste when discussing the beer. She says flavor was important because while some customers might try it once, if it doesn’t please the palate they won’t return for a second bottle. What Lewis and her husband Dave will not talk about is specific ingredients.
“We are not going to release that information,” says Dave Lewis in an email message. “What is important is how consumers react to the taste of the beer.” He says their goal was to make a cultural statement with Chick Beer, not a brewing statement.
However, in a day and age where customers like to know what they are ingesting, some might take umbrage at the secrecy. Indeed, even the largest breweries openly talk about malts, hops and other ingredients they use.
Shazz Lewis notes that Chick Beer’s brewer, Minhas Brewery in Monroe, Wis., already had a beer in its reserves when she came to them with the plan for her own beer.
“They were using this recipe before,” she says, but did not know if it was currently being used as another beer on the market. A telephone call and e-mail message to Gary Olson, president of the Minhas Brewery were not returned.
While there has been a lot of attention paid to the 4.2 percent alcohol-by-volume Chick Beer, not everyone is as enthusiastic.
“To enter a market like beer, with a product like this is naive, and I think it’s really disrespectful,” opines Ginger Johnson, founder of Women Enjoying Beer, an education and research business focused on female beer consumers. Johnson reveals that Lewis contacted her several months ago, before the beer was launched.
Johnson calls the beer marketing sexist saying it says women are only concerned about pretty things, or pink and, as such, treats customers less like the adult women that they are. It puts women in a pen, she says, not allowing freedom.
“In the end it’s her product, I wish her luck,” says Johnson. “I do think she is going in the wrong direction and missing the point. The point is that beer is beer and marketing is not marketing to one group or the other.”
Marketing a beverage exclusively to the fairer sex is nothing new of course, not even in beer. In 2007, Heineken tested a fermented cider called Charli aimed specifically at women who said they did not prefer the core brands offered by the Netherlands-based brewery. It was never made available in the United States and seemed to sputter in its test markets. It has since been rebranded as Jillz and its current marketing campaign reverses the gender roles seen in typical American beer commercials.
In the spots, two women ogle well chiseled and bare-chested men, eventually spraying them down with water. “Fresh and Exciting. Just Like You” is the slogan.
For her part, Lewis says she has been surprised by but welcomes all the attention Chick Beer has brought her way.“There is an interest; we started a dialogue,” she says. “And I’m extremely happy about that.”