08/15/2012 01:03 EDT | Updated 10/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Alcohol Consumption And Women: Female Drinkers An Untapped Market, BMO Says

happy elderly woman toasting...
happy elderly woman toasting...
MONTREAL - It's been mostly a man's world when it comes to beer.

Women are a big, untapped market for North American beer brewers as they face more competition from wine and spirits and specialty craft brewers, says a Bank of Montreal report .

"At this juncture, 80 per cent of beer sales are sold to guys," said David Rinneard, national manager of agriculture at BMO (TSX:BMO).

What women want is low calorie, lighter flavoured beer and beer-based beverages, he said Wednesday from Toronto.

Brewers will appeal to female sensibilities with these niche products along with commercials and marketing targeted at women, he said.

"They're making a diligent effort and attempt to go after that new market."

Calories also are "unquestionably" a factor in getting women to drink more beer, Rinneard said, adding men can also be calorie conscious.

Traditionally, women weren't pursued by brewers because they didn't need the market with the "prosperous" and defined market of male beer drinkers, Rinneard said.

Beer for women is starting to make some inroads. "Chick Beer" is an American craft-brewed beer specifically aimed at women and boasts just 97 calories, 3.5 carbs per bottle and 4.2 per cent alcohol.

For the calorie conscious, there's Molson Ultra with 2.5 grams of carbohydrates, 97 calories and 4.5 per cent alcohol.

As wine and spirits affect beer consumption and the population ages, brewers have to look for other growth opportunities, Rinneard said.

"In essence, they're competing for a defined or limited amount of stomach space, if you can call it that."

There are also beer-based beverages with tomato juice and other flavours. Budweiser has introduced a Bud Light Lime Mojito, while Molson-Coors is tapping into the market with a Coors Light Iced Tea.

Rinneard noted that in recent years that "everything from lime to pumpkin" has been added to beer to move away from a traditional core lager offering and offering a specialized product.

Per capita consumption of beer remains flat in Canada and has fallen in the United States, the bank's study said.

Rinneard said brewers can also appeal to an aging population, which considers itself to have a more "discerning" palate, with niche beer beverages. Some European brewers have already targeted older beer drinks, he said.

But there are other challenges ahead for the North American brewing industry, including scorching temperatures this summer that could push up prices.

Prices for barley, wheat and, to a lesser extent, hops have been going up, Rinneard said.

"It's really the drought that is pushing those commodity prices up. When you've got less supply and a static demand, the price goes up."