Propel the trend: Sapporo debuts hard seltzers and beer-like beverage to strengthen home consumption business

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Sapporo has developed two ready-to-drink hard seltzers marketed under the Sapporo Water Sour brand. ©Sapporo
Sapporo has developed two ready-to-drink hard seltzers marketed under the Sapporo Water Sour brand. ©Sapporo

Related tags Japan Sapporo hard seltzer Beer

Japanese brewery giant Sapporo is debuting its first hard seltzer products and a beer-like beverage across supermarkets and convenience stores nationwide, as it looks to strengthen its home-consumption portfolio amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

These latest products come under Sapporo’s main business - alcoholic beverages. The other pillars comprise food and soft drinks as well as real estate.

Revenue of alcoholic beverages increased 0.2% in Q2 2021 to reach JPY 130.5 billion (US$1.2 billion). The increase is mostly from ready-to-drink (RTD) sales from growing at-home consumption and its overseas business, buffering the decline in commercial-use beer and restaurant business due to COVID-19.

It is noteworthy that RTD sales volume increased 48% year-on-year.

Sapporo is hoping to strengthen its products for home-consumption through the launch of its hard seltzer products under the Water Sour brand and a beer-like beverage named The Drafty.

Hard seltzer craze

Hard seltzers first became popular in the US in 2013, and since then popularity has spiked worldwide, contributed by growing demand from health-conscious consumers for its relatively lower calorie and alcohol content.

They typically comprise of an alcohol mixed with carbonated water and fruit flavouring whether from fruit juice or artificial flavouring.

The category is relatively new in Japan and does not have an official definition. In the US, hard seltzer is a general term for flavoured carbonated water containing sugar cane molasses-derived alcohol.

Hard seltzers are similar to Japan’s Chuhai, a spirit-based beverage containing soda and fruit juice. Although Chuhai are usually higher in alcohol content, going as high as 12% ABV, typically uses a shochu or vodka base and contains a lot of sugar.

Inspired by this trend, Sapporo developed two ready-to-drink hard seltzers marketed under the Sapporo Water Sour brand.

It is a low-alcoholic vodka-based drink (3% ABV) that is unsweetened, and provides a light sour yet refreshing mouthfeel. It comes in two variations, containing either lemon and orange fruit juice, said to be flavours preferred by Japanese consumers.

According to Yasuhiro Nagumo from the public relations department at Sapporo Breweries, the seltzers are targeted at consumers in their 20s and 30s.

Recently, young people are becoming more aware of their drinking time and amount of alcohol they intake due to their growing health consciousness. We have developed a product that is low in alcohol and no sugar for young people.”

According to Nagumo, the market for hard seltzer in Japan is still small, “but we think it is a category that can be expected to expand in the future​.”

Sapporo’s hard seltzers are available at supermarkets and convenience stores nationwide, there are no plans for exports at this time.

Beer-like beverage

Sapporo the drafty

The company also recently released a low-alcohol (0.7% ABV) beer-like drink as an alternative for beer lovers.

Branded as Sapporo The Drafty, Nagumo said it uses 100% malt draft beer to create a low-alcohol yet has a beer-like aroma and wheat flavour.

With the growing health consciousness and feeling of not wanting to get too drunk, it is a product where beer lovers can enjoy beer without hesitation and will be satisfied.”

Asahi has also launched its version of a beer-like drink (Beery​) containing 0.5% ABV, as well as Kirin with its Kirin Greens Free​ (0.00%), which recently exported to China.


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