The total Japanese beer market is forecast to shrink by around 2% in 2018, according to Suntory’s estimates.
Japanese beer drinkers, however, continue to show interest in different varieties, such new flavors, alcohol free beer and high ABV beer.
The Japanese beer market
Japan’s ageing population and falling birth rate are contributing to decreases in the total drinking population, according to Euromonitor. Meanwhile, an increasing number of people want to save money by drinking and eating at home – a phenomenon known as ‘ienomi’. Beer suffers from this shift in consumption habits where people drink alone or in couples more often, rather than as part of a larger drinking group.
In addition, other alcoholic drinks categories are growing and competing with beer: such as RTDs, cider and perry and whisky, which often benefit from a more fashionable image.
Despite this backdrop, Suntory Beer Limited's goal is to sell 72.20 million cases (up 1% year-on-year) with the aim of selling 65.20 million cases (up 1% year-on-year) in the beer category.
It says it will use its three core brands - The Premium Malt's, Kin-Mugi, and alcohol-free beer All-Free – to stimulate new demand and provide impetus to the beer market.
New innovations: High ABV and no ABV
The future looks considerably brighter for zero alcohol beers than for their traditional counterparts in Japan: Euromonitor observes that non-alcoholic beer is ‘increasingly preferred’ to regular beer, cannibalizing sales from other beer categories.
Suntory aims to sell 7 million cases (up 4% year-on-year) for its zero alcohol All-Free brand in 2018. The brand will benefit from a packaging re-fresh in February, upgrading to more stylish packaging with the use of the color blue for the first time. Meanwhile, All-Free Collagen – a non-alcoholic beer containing 2,000mg collagen – will be relaunched as All-Free Collagen Rich with a fruitier taste this month.
In addition, it will further develop Itadaki – a 7% ABV product launched in July that will be bumped up to 8% ABV in February - to “secure a solid position in the new genre of high alcohol content beverages”. Suntory’s 2018 target is to sell 4.8 million cases (up 116% year-on-year) for the Itadaki brand.
Suntory is targeting sales of 17.30 million cases (up 1% year-on-year) of The Premium Malt’s brand in 2018.
Promotions will focus on the brand’s creamy beer foam, produced by a special way of poring. Another focus will be promotions based on Fridays, “where there are many occasions to drink beer as a reward for a job well done”.
Meanwhile, the December revamp of The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale (initially launched in March 2016) has resulted in an ‘improved refreshing aroma and pleasant aftertaste while keeping the popular fruity flavor’ – changes Suntory says are better suited to the Japanese palate.
Suntory aims to sell 35.90 million cases (surpassing the previous year) for its Kin-Mugi brand: a 'beer-like beverage' which is ‘crafted with an emphasis on umami flavor’.
“We will further pursue our dedication to barley, which we have placed importance on since the launch of Kin-Mugi in 2007,” says Suntory. “In December 2017, we renewed the product, adjusting the balance of the aroma to make it more barley-like. In November 2017, the “umami malt” in Kin-Mugi 75% Less Sugar was increased, renewing it as a new delicious functional beer genre.”