The RTD alcoholic drinks consumption trend is picking up speed particularly amongst Japanese consumers in the 20 to 30-year-old age group, with Kirin highlighting that the sales forecast for hard seltzers has been predicted to grow to take over approximately 11% of Japan’s entire local RTD category sales.
This will be very significant not just for the company but for the beverage industry as a whole due to the sheer values involved - as of 2022 the RTD category sales value came in at US$152mn, and this is predicted to reach US$395mn by 2027.
“Kirin Brewery saw that RTD consumption has been growing rapidly partly due to the influence of COVID-19 leading to more ‘chill our and relax’ occasions which are very suitable as RTD consumption opportunities,” Kirin Corporate Communications Assistant Manager Yoko Shiode told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The widespread enjoyment of soda as a soft drink in combination with heightened demand for ‘better-for-you’ products – hard seltzers [have elements that fit in with both of these], hence this has resulted in its widespread acceptance.
“In addition, consumers are very accepting of the gender-neutrality of hard seltzers, in that the packaging and liquid are not targeted at either males or females, in addition to the alcohol content, calories and ingredients having less sugar and additives and being easier to understand than other RTD products as well as being an alcohol product that is priced more affordably than craft beer and wine in general.
“In order to capitalise on this trend and win over more domestic consumers, we saw a very strong opportunity to promote Smirnoff Seltzers outside of Smirnoff Ice products [that the brand is most well-known for locally].”
The other main draw of hard seltzers in a market like Japan falls to its ‘stylishness’ and presentability, which of course includes earning views and likes on social media.
“Hard seltzers tend to be packaged very stylishly here, making it easy for these to go viral on social media; and these are also thought of as a category of drinks that can be enjoyed stylishly and give that ‘cool’ factor,” she added.
Kirin’s first range of hard seltzers have been released under the Smirnoff Brand in two flavours – Orange & Grapefruit, and White Peach.
“These products use Smirnoff vodka, and Smirnoff in itself has gained a high level of recognition and regard for its clean and refreshing taste here,” Shiode added.
“In terms of packaging, we decided to do something rare when it comes to Japanese RTD products which is to use a simple design on a white base and eliminate as much text as possible [whilst retaining style]. The container capacity is also non-standard here, being an easily-drinkable size of 250ml [as opposed to common 330ml cans.”
As for the two flavours chosen, she highlighted that these were picked in order to achieve a high level of familiarity and localisation for Japanese consumers.
“Orange & Grapefruit already has a good overseas reputation, and is a citrus flavour that Japanese consumers are familiar with; whereas White Peach has been developed specifically for the Japanese market as a non-citrus offering and has already received high marks in consumer surveys,” she said.
Kirin-made Smirnoff Seltzers will unfortunately not be launched outside of Japan because the licensing for the Smirnoff brand does not belong to the firm beyond the country. Smirnoff Seltzers as a range though are also available in other markets such as Australia and the United States, licensed under Diageo.
Wanting for whiskey
In addition to hard seltzers, Kirin has also launched a new whiskey product made at its Mt. Fuji Distillery, in hopes of heightening not just local but also international recognition of its whiskies.
“In 2021, the term and standards for ‘Japanese whisky’ were officially defined by the Japanese government, and it has become a whiskey category that is attracting attention both in Japan and overseas,” said Shiode.
“[That said], the recognition of Kirin Brewery’s whiskey business is currently still low – so in order to [boost this as well as] further expand the potential of Japanese whiskey, we hope to revitalise the market through the renewal and launch of whiskey products that take advantage of the features of the Mt. Fuji Distillery.”
The firm has launched its Kirin Single Blended Japanese Whiskey Fuji – set to go on sale on June 7 2022 – which it has highlighted as a completely new style of whiskey.
“Kirin Single Blended Japanese Whiskey Fuji is a new style of product unique to Mt. Fuji Distillery where malt and grain are produced and distilled all at a single distillery (thus ‘single blended’), and is rare among the world’s whiskies,” she said.
“All of the original malts and grains are produced in the same natural environment, with the same Fuji subsoil water and brewers, and then expertly blended to create a [harmony] of a wide variety of flavours.
“We also actually already have a Kirin Single Grain Japanese Whiskey Fuji which was launched in 2020, and for this we will be starting sales to China and Australia in April 2022 in order to convey the appeal of Japanese whiskey to more overseas consumers – the aim is to increase the overseas sales ratio of the Fuji brand to 50% in terms of sales value by 2025.”
Kirin Single Grain Japanese Whiskey Fuji currently already has two other export markets in France and the United States.