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Jim Beam goes girly

Beam is rolling out drinks targeted at women to fuel sales in the $19.2 billion spirits business, which grew 2.3 percent last year.
/ Source: Business Week

Jim Beam whiskey has long been cast as the drink of choice for the hard-living set in films ranging from "Easy Rider" to this year’s "Bad Teacher." But after 216 years of catering to guys’ guys — tattooed singer Kid Rock is a pitchman — the maker of the oak-aged bourbon is chasing women. “Two years ago, 100 percent of our marketing was geared to men,” says Global Chief Marketing Officer Kevin George. “We weren’t talking to women in any specific way.”

Beam, which on Oct. 3 was spun off by Fortune Brands, is now touting women-friendly Courvoisier cognac infused with red wine, tart Pucker vodka and low-calorie Skinnygirl-brand cocktails. Reaching female consumers with lighter or fruitier quaffs they can consume outside of bars and restaurants may allow Beam to boost its share of the $19.2 billion spirits market. “If you’re only focused on creating solutions in spirits for half the population, then you’re obviously missing out on satisfying a large group of potential consumers,” says Chief Executive Matthew J. Shattock.

The gender-bending marketing shift happened almost by accident. In 2009 the distiller introduced a black cherry-infused version of Jim Beam called Red Stag and signed Kid Rock to pitch the product. As sales took off, Beam discovered that women were buying the sweeter concoction at almost three times the rate at which they typically bought bourbon. Further research revealed what the company marketing executives came to call the “girlfriend connection.” Says George: “They tend to drink with other women or in a very social setting. We wanted to understand the emotional reasons why women drink wine or spirits.”

Bloomberg Businessweek slideshow: Gender-bending a brand

While women make up almost half of spirits drinkers, they consume just a quarter of the volume sold — far less than their 58 percent of wine consumption, says George. “We started to understand how to move that wine occasion to a spirits occasion,” he says. “Every time I do that, there are some dollars in it for me.”

When Beam created a rosé-flavored Courvoisier cognac, the idea was to give women their own take on a classic male drink. Beam cut the alcohol content by more than half. The product is designed to be served cold, so that it’s kept next to the wine, where women are more likely to see it, George says.

Sales of Beam’s Sauza tequila also benefited from the women’s focus. About 57 percent of the tequila sold in the U.S. is mixed in margaritas, George says. Two-thirds of those margaritas are consumed by women. Yet tequila marketers always targeted men. “It was a shot occasion, it was spring break,” he says, explaining the situations spirits makers associated with the agave-based drink.

Sauza began marketing itself around the notion of a “ladies’ night in,” hosting 1,000 in-home margarita parties and advertising on Food Network. Research also suggested women had no loyalty when it came to the tequila in their drinks, so the company teamed up with restaurants to brand so-called “Sauza-Ritas.” This spring, the company also bought Skinnygirl cocktails, created by reality TV star Bethenny Frankel, who appeared on "The Real Housewives of New York City." The brand caters to women with low-sugar margarita and sangria drinks with about 100 calories per serving — compared with 480 in a typical margarita.

Shattock says he isn’t abandoning men. He’s pushing higher-margin versions of existing brands, such as French oak-finished Maker’s 46 and Beam Devil’s Cut, which includes whiskey extracted from the barrel wood after aging. He also wants to expand Jim Beam, Teacher’s Scotch, and other male-focused brands overseas. Still, that hasn’t stopped Beam from rolling out its latest female concoction: Skinnygirl White Cranberry Cosmo — something Jack Nicholson’s character in "Easy Rider" definitely wouldn’t pick as his morning wake-me-up.

The bottom line: Beam is rolling out drinks targeted at women to fuel sales in the $19.2 billion spirits business, which grew 2.3 percent last year.