New occasions and female empowerment drive change in the South African drinks market

Women in South Africa present drinks brands with an opportunity to invest in new markets in the region and expand category offerings.


Social change, female empowerment and even declining disposable income have all played their part in pushing women to the forefront of a rapidly changing drinks market in South Africa.

Not only has it become more acceptable for females to drink among themselves, but they are also exerting increasing influence over the drink choices of their male counterparts through the consolidation of a more unisex drinking culture. Whether around the barbeque, in township taverns or in a high-end luxury setting, males and females, in what is a strong bottle-serve culture, are making collective decisions on drinks choices that have favoured vodka, gin, Cognac, cider, champagne and wine.

Marketing strategies and product innovation specifically target the modern, trendy African woman

Distell’s 4th Street, which has had an annual growth rate of almost 60% over the past five years, and which was once the world’s fastest growing wine brand for two years in a row, was South Africa’s initial market disrupter. As well as a fresh image, robust marketing and highly competitive pricing, a cornerstone of its strategy was the penetration of the urban and rural township market, an area that had previously been treated at arm’s length by wine companies. Its sweet, easy drinking style and young, vibrant image appealed to the sophisticated modern woman, for whom natural sweet rosé is an aspirational, yet affordable entry level wine.

Richard Rushton, Distell MD, described the brand’s strategy, “4th Street is an accessible easy drinking wine proposition that we have been making available on a more consistent basis and pervasively in our mainstream market in South Africa […] Also the alcohol levels are not quite as high as other wine brands so it plays to a sweet spot, it’s almost a category breaker.”

“Bernini Blush is an example of another brand that responded to the demand created by female consumers,” remarks Dan Mettyear, IWSR’s Research Director for Wine and the African market. “Taking advantage of the buzz created by 4th Street, Bernini Blush created an RTD that mimics a sparkling rosé. The drink caters to the same consumer tastes that drove consumption of natural sweet wines: easy, relaxed and slightly sweet drinking. It was so successful that it even took significant market share from 4th Street.”

New categories are taking market share away from incumbent category leaders, such as Scotch, whisky and brandy

Following wine’s lead, vodka, Champagne, cider and gin have pivoted their marketing and product strategies to cater for the female market. Gin, in particular, has seen success among female consumers, dramatically challenging the stronghold of categories such as Scotch, whisky and brandy, which do badly in a unisex context. Enjoyed at similar moments to natural sweet wines, gin consumption has grown almost 30% year on year. It is Instagrammable, relatively affordable and well suited to unisex drinking. Although there’s been massive growth in this category already, Mettyear predicts that there’s more to go, with room for the level of female gin consumption to match that of the men.

An opportunity for drinks companies to invest in new markets and expand category offerings

Countries neighbouring South Africa, as well as those on the Eastern coast, are going through a similar shift in category leaders. As attitudes towards female alcohol consumption start to open up, women are challenging alcohol companies to appeal to their tastes and drinking preferences. Mettyear notes that countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are already seeing an increase in natural sweet red wine consumption. And, if the category shifts of South Africa are anything to go by, there may be a similar growth opportunity for gin, cider, Champagne and vodka brands in these markets as well.


You may also be interested in reading:

Provenance and profits: The future of the gin industry

Eco-packaging trends across spirits, wine and beer

The unsung growth of international wines


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