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What gender is your hot sauce? No, dinner isn't unisex

Are you manly enough for Mansauce hot sauce?

Is that hot sauce manly? Are those cocktails feminine?

If you thought dinnerwas unisex, think again. From alcoholic beverages to dairy products, marketers, manufacturers and restaurateurs are vying to stand out by identifying their food and beverages as male or female.

Take Mansauce, for example, a Greenbank, Ont.-based brand of spicy sauce, launched last November, that claims to be "the manliest condiment … ever."

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Company partner Chris Galvin explains the sauce is made with jalapenos and bananapeppers – "stuff that's typically associated with men." While the product has plenty of female fans, its customer base consists largely of men, he says. He doubts his company would have generated the same level of buzz if it had adopted a more feminine or gender-neutral image.

"In general, men like spicy food. They have the palate for it," Mr. Galvin says. "A lot of men – me especially – they like to associate with a brand. Guys walk around with their Budweiser shirts … like, 'This is me, this is my beer,' so I think a lot of guys can associate with Mansauce."

To some extent, the marketing of certain food and beverages has always been divided along gender lines. Beer advertisements have typically been geared toward men, while ads for yogurt are generally tailored for women. But these days, companies are taking bolder steps to segment the market, unapologetically distinguishing which items are for men and which are for women.

Last month, New York chef Daniel Boulud and mixologist Xavier Herit released a two-volume recipe collection, Cocktails & Amuse-Bouches: For Her & For Him. The separate books, one "for her" and the other "for him," contain recipes catering to the different genders. The cover of the volume For Her, for instance, features a "White Cosmopolitan," a sweet, white cranberry juice cocktail served in a dainty martini glass with a pink orchid suspended in ice. The cover of For Him shows a tumbler of "Bitter for Better," an amber-coloured drink made with rum, bitters and an orange peel garnish.

Earlier this year, Dr Pepper launched a new low-calorie pop, Dr Pepper 10, aimed at men, in test markets in the United States. A commercial for the product emphasized it has "only 10 manly calories," and that "it's not for women." And in New Zealand, dairy company Fonterra unveiled a "manly" yogurt last year under the brand name Mammoth Supply Co. The brand's slogan, "Real man food, man!" leaves little room for gender ambiguity.

When Colio Estate Wines, headquartered in Mississauga, Ont., launched its Girls' Night Out label in 2008, it was considered an unprecedented move to tailor an alcoholic beverage specifically for women, says Doug Beatty, the winery's vice-president of marketing. Competitors tended to be nervous about alienating half the adult population. But there are now several alcoholic beverage brands, like Skinnygirl Margarita in the U.S., that focus exclusively on female consumers.

Whether they're marketed as such or not, we all tend to think of everyday items, including food and beverages, as one gender or the other, says James Wilkie, a doctoral candidate in marketing at Northwestern University in Illinois.

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Humans instinctively categorize other individuals as male or female, Mr. Wilkie says. This kind of thinking is so ingrained in our society and is applied so frequently on a daily basis, he says, "we tend to almost reflexively apply it to things that perhaps it's not relevant to apply it to."

In a study published last year, he examined how such perceptions affect people's food choices. Men, more than women, he found, tend to be more concerned about choosing foods that conform to gender norms. For instance, they often choose rib-eye steaks, gravy and dishes described as "hearty" over supposedly feminine foods like salads.

He suggests that women aren't as hung up on making gender-based choices because, over time, they have taken on more traditionally masculine roles and it's become more socially acceptable for them to be seen consuming masculine products. Men, on the other hand, are still stigmatized for choosing products that are deemed feminine.

But how do foods and drinks become thought of as one or the other in the first place?

Mr. Wilkie says it can happen through a number of different processes. Individuals may observe that an unfamiliar product is predominantly used by either men or women, and thus become socially conditioned to think of it as masculine or feminine. Another way is through inference: If a product is described in masculine or feminine terms, for example "chunky" and "bold" versus "light" and "floral," that will likely influence people's perception of its gender.

Dave Lewis, spokesman for Chick Beer, a new U.S. brew created for women, believes another factor is at play. Men and women may actually have different flavour preferences, he suggests. At the liquor store he and his wife, Chick Beer founder Shazz Lewis, own in Maryland, they noticed that female customers generally bought light beers, which are less bitter, and ales that taste softer and smoother.

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The recipe for Chick Beer was designed accordingly, as a "soft, smooth, and full-bodied" light brew.

"There has been some recent science suggesting that women are more likely than men to be super-tasters, and they are particularly sensitive to bitter flavours," Mr. Lewis wrote in an e-mail. "Whatever the reason, women clearly drink less bitter beers than men."

The product, launched in Maryland stores in August, comes in a pink and black box designed to look like a purse.

Because this kind of marketing unabashedly draws from gender stereotypes, it's perhaps no surprise that some consider it in bad taste. The website Gawker derided Dr Pepper 10's hyper-macho marketing by describing the drink as "Ten Bold Calories of Penis Flavor," while the website Jezebel responded to Chick Beer's launch with the headline, "Chick Beer: Ugh, Really?"

Mr. Lewis, however, dismisses the detractors.

"What we say to anyone who doesn't believe that there needs to be a beer for women is this: Let's not stop at beer. We should also start wearing unisex jumpsuits, change our names to a series of numbers (because gender-specific names are sexist) and get identical haircuts!" Mr. Lewis says. "Seriously, some of these folks need to relax. It's just beer, and beer is supposed to be fun!"

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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