Three glamorous women stroll past bouncers into the VIP lounge of a trendy club. Rejecting the offer of a beer, they reach for a sparkling drink in a fluted glass before hitting the stage to sing for an adoring audience. It’s not a scene from a music video, but Diageo’s (DEO) latest sales pitch to Kenyan women. The world’s biggest distiller recently introduced an apple-flavored alcohol drink called Snapp, targeting female consumers in hopes of luring them to a more profitable alternative to beer, the predominant alcoholic beverage across Africa. The “Snapp Sisters” in the ads embody a growing wave of independent women, Diageo says, with their own decisions to make—and money to spend.
“Women are thinking about themselves in a new light,” says Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo’s head of marketing in Africa. With above-average income growth in Kenya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a growing sense of empowerment among the region’s estimated 100 million women above legal drinking age, she says. “They’re relying on their own means.”
Diageo, best known for Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, already sells spirits, Tusker and Serengeti beers, and Guinness stout in Africa, which accounted for almost 14 percent of its revenue last year. The company’s African sales climbed to £1.36 billion ($2.1 billion) in fiscal 2011, almost equal to the Asia-Pacific region, while revenue fell in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Snapp, which London-based Diageo started selling in Kenya in April, has an alcohol content of about 5 percent and costs about the same as mainstream beer in the country, East Africa’s largest economy. Translucent and fizzy, it comes in a bottle similar to Diageo’s Smirnoff Ice line of flavored ready-to-drink cocktails. Diageo suggests serving Snapp in tall champagne-style flutes, adding to the aura of glamour and luxury it’s set for the brand.
Tapping a female market effectively has been “the holy grail for the alcohol industry forever,” says Spiros Malandrakis, an analyst at Euromonitor International. “Most [African] advertising campaigns in the past have had a very masculine approach. I’m a bit skeptical about female-only launches.” And Jonny Forsyth, an analyst at market researcher Mintel, cautions that Diageo also could run into cultural resistance on a continent where many shun alcohol for religious reasons.
Diageo has reason for optimism, since Smirnoff Ice flavored drinks have won lots of female drinkers without directly targeting them. Also, the industry has seen the strong performance among women by Mozambique’s Laurentina Preta beer, SABMiller’s (SAB:LN) fastest-growing brand in Africa. “This idea of strong women making decisions is universal,” says Diezhandino, who notes that beverage marketing can still be “bilingual” enough to appeal to men as well. “I have high hopes for Snapp.” Diageo won’t say how much it has invested in the brand, which may next be rolled out in oil-rich Nigeria.
Aside from Smirnoff Ice, Diageo says there aren’t other products like Snapp in Africa. SABMiller, though, is selling Redd’s, a malt-based, apple-flavored drink, in Kenya after introducing it in Tanzania in 2005. It’s a “premium” product in Africa, compared with Diageo’s mainstream pricing, and comes in different fruit flavors. The brand sponsors the Miss Tanzania contest.
Recruiting new drinkers is a priority for beverage makers as sales growth wanes in the developed world thanks to economic turmoil, maturing tastes, and competition. Diageo already has targeted niches in the U.S., creating products like Qream for black women and Nuvo, a sparkling vodka liqueur popular in Venezuela and Mexico that’s won favor with Hispanic women. Now it’s applying the same market segmentation strategy to the less-developed, yet faster-growing countries of sub-Saharan Africa.