In Japan, the beer market is expected to have shrunk around 9% from the previous year in volume, according to Suntory. Declines are expected to continue in 2021, albeit at a more moderate 3%. Suntory’s focus, therefore, is on quality and value for its three key brands.
Alcohol-free is a particular focus: sales volume for Suntory’s 0.0% ABV All-Free brand was 7.93 million cases in 2020 (up 8% year on year): a trajectory Suntory wants to continue in 2021. While well-established in Japan, the product has also launched in the US.
Japan and US: growing alcohol-free markets
All-Free is a drink ‘combining modern technology with decades of brewing experience to create a crisp, light and refreshing beverage with zero calories and 0.00% alcohol, perfectly complementing an active and social lifestyle.’
The drink has been present in Japan since 2010, but relaunched in December with a new product and packaging. It also launched in the US in August.
Described as a ‘sparkling malt and hops beverage’, the drink uses Tennensui water (natural mineral water from Japanese forests) and natural ingredients, bypassing the fermentation process to create a specialty beer-like beverage.
In Japan, Suntory estimates that the alcohol-free category is now four times as big as 10 years ago, when All-Free was emerging on shelves. Similarly, the category is gathering momentum in the US.
In both countries, All-Free uses a clean blue and white packaging design (blue being synonymous with the alcohol-free category), although the design does differ between the two markets.
As is increasingly the case across the category, Suntory is clearly marketing the drink as a positive choice – ‘be refreshed without worrying’ – rather than simply as a substitute for beer.
“We aim to sell 8.1 million cases (up 2% year on year) of All-Free brand products. All-Free does not aim to be a “substitute to when beer can’t be consumed” , but is instead positioned as a light and refreshing non-alcoholic beer-taste beverage, and the contents and packaging has been renewed with this objective.
“The claims of being “ABV 0.00%”, “zero-calorie”, “zero -sugar” and “zero-purine" will be unchanged, but we will further enhance the solid mouth-feel and crisp aftertaste that characterize All-Free."
In Japan, Suntory will also promote KARADA-WO-OMOU All-Free: a variety of All-Free launched in January 2020 with functional claims for visceral fat. With health consciousness on the rise, the drink recorded a ‘strong performance’ in 2020 and sales volume grew to 2.53 million cases, exceeding Suntory’s expectations.
“In order to give people an opportunity to come into contact with the KARADA-WO-OMOU All-Free product with functional claims, which has been rated highly by consumers, we will launch multiple promotions, focused on times at which there is a greater consciousness of health issues,” says Suntory.
“We will work to create new drinking demand and revitalize the overall beer market by increasing the value of our key brands The Premium Malt’s, Kin-Mugi and All-Free as well as by delivering new value," says Suntory. "Our target for the year is a total of 65.2 million cases (up 1% year on year), and 57.1 million cases excluding non-alcoholic beer-taste beverages (up 1% year on year).”
The Premium Malt’s
Sold in Japan and Asia, The Premium Malt’s has seen declines in 2020 (-27% year on year) which Suntory hopes to ameliorate in 2021.
It has rebrewed The Premium Malt’s and The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale in an effort to improve taste and foam quality - the latter being a focus point in marketing the brand. While the brand as a whole declined in 2020, can sales role by 6% (in particular The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale can posted year-on-year increase of 23%) which Suntory will continue to embrace in 2021.
“We will aim to sell 12.35 million cases (down 2% year on year) of The Premium Malt’s brand products, and 5.85 million cases (up 1% year on year) for canned products excluding gifts.
"While continuing to roll out promotions that capture changes in our customers, we will seek to become embedded more deeply in their lives by positioning The Premium Malt’s as a little bit of luxury in everyday life. In addition, with a glass of drink at restaurants becoming an increasingly precious occasion, we will leverage “Kamiawa” that focuses on foam, which is the unique value proposition of our beer, and concentrate our efforts on creating inspirational taste experiences that stay in the memory.”
Another beer-like product, the 5% ‘rich malt’ Kin-Mugi is sold in Japan. In 2020, Suntory rolled out three new products for the brand, with another launch to follow in 2021. The focus for this drink is as an accompaniment for food.
“Although the brand was affected by higher taxes following the liquor tax revision, consumers rated our products highly for their suitability for drinking with meals, and sales volume of the total canned Kin-Mugi brand increased to 36.67 million cases (same level as previous year), recording the highest sales volume since its launch.
“We will aim to sell 37.64 million cases (same level as previous year) of Kin-Mugi brand products in 2021. We will continue to roll out “Shiki no Kin-Mugi”, which changes the taste in accordance with the season of the year, and renew packaging and strengthen communications throughout the year in order to enhance the appeal of their affinity with seasonal ingredients and dishes.
“We will propose Kin-Mugi 75% Less Carbohydrate as an option for those who would like to drink but are concerned about their health, and strengthen its appeal by leveraging its unique value as a product that offers a balance of good taste and function. In addition, because “food in a happy household” is one of the Kin-Mugi brand concepts, in response to demand for satisfying beer as well as satisfying food, we will launch Kin-Mugi The Lager [in February 2021], characterized by its “rewarding flavor and pleasant aftertaste”.