LONDON - The choices we make at the supermarket checkout are less down to personal taste than we might like to think.

Forget sexual stereotyping, gender targeting is the latest mantra as food marketers exploit hidden cues in the packaged foods and drinks we buy.

It's what makes Food Doctor Easy Goodness Roasted Basil Chicken with Puy Lentils & Spelt more appealing to women than a bowl of Mr Brain's Pork Faggots.

Eve is a light alcoholic drink being launched in Britain by Carlsberg next month. It's not just in the name. It is flavoured with exotic fruits like lychee and passion fruit, the logo is looped and curling. Eve is, the company boldly declares, "a synonym for women and femininity".

Or Koko by Cadbury, the confectioner's new chocolate gift selection which, aside from the passing nod to Coco Chanel in its name, underlines its fashionista credentials with pink and brown, ribboned packaging, and was sold in Selfridges.

Then there's Pot Noodle Doner Kebab, with its meaty promise of Turkish lamb in a black plastic tub and neon logo described by Graham Walker, of makers Unilever as "the ultimate man-food snack".

Consumer psychologist Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, of Anglia Ruskin University, says: "Food companies have many cues to play with when it comes to making sure they attract the particular consumers they want to appeal to. Content, flavour, and consistency are just the beginning.

"We tend to purchase things that are an extension of who we are and who we want to be seen as - that's why much marketing is still channelled along gender lines."

In the drinks market, for example, lager is predominantly marketed at young men. In the UK it is 18- to 34-year-old men who mostly drink it. Trouble is, sales are down 10 per cent between 2004 and 2009, due to people cutting back on their drinking.

"British beer marketing has a long tradition of targeting men through male humour and sport," says Harriet Easton, a student entrepreneur who, in her gap year, developed a pale ale for women called Harry's Beer, which she hopes to sell nationally.

"The bitter flavouring of many domestic beers means far fewer women drink beer here than in other countries like Ireland, the US and parts of Asia. Attempts by established brewers to woo women drinkers are a logical next step," she says, and long overdue.

Foster's has come up with Twist, "an easy drinking beer with a hint of citrus", designed to appeal to the female palate. Heineken has developed a ladies' sparkling cider called Charli.

Yet while some brewers have talked about developing women's lagers, they have tended to hold back from positioning them as such - perhaps for fear of alienating male drinkers.

Chocolate is a product category dominated by female-focused brands, despite being consumed by both sexes in equal amounts. The more indulgent the product, however, the more feminine-focused the brand, says Jill McCall, Cadbury brand manager for Koko.

"Women, however, tend to follow a debit-credit system when it comes to chocolate consumption, which means that if they indulge now they must compromise on something else later.

"So, if they are going to indulge, it had better taste, look and feel perfect. It's a trade-off which women readily understand, but which many men don't."

On-pack messaging also has a role to play, she adds. Products clearly marked "low-calorie" or "healthy" are predominantly aimed at, and bought by, women.

"As soon as you put 'Diet' or 'Light' in a name, the product is generally perceived as being aimed more at women, even though many men are now as calorie-conscious," says Penny Segal, head of strategy at brand development consultancy Brandhouse.

"It's why Pepsi and Coke have been doing smart jobs with Pepsi Max and Coke Zero - offering the low-cal benefit desired in a new, male way."

NOTHING IN IT - ZERO IS A WINNER

Coca-Cola had years of success with Diet Coke and sister diet cola Tab.

Trouble was, men seemed reluctant to buy products labelled "diet" or "low cal".

So, in 2006, the company introduced a sugar-free drink called Coke Zero (dubbed "bloke Coke" by food industry insiders) which came in a more manly black and red can.

A TV campaign featured a man's surprise at finding taking sugar out doesn't ruin the taste - "Why can't all things in life come without downsides?" he ponders, "Like girlfriends without five-year plans."

- INDEPENDENT