Suntory eyes up opportunity to grow non-alcoholic All-Free in the US: ‘We see the product’s potential as both a beer alternative and a new refreshment option’
All-Free was launched in Japan back in 2010, with Suntory spotting an opportunity in the US market for a launch there in 2020. It now sees the opportunity to expand the brand in daily occasions that are not usually considered as beer occasions: particularly as a refreshment option that ticks all the boxes for today’s health-conscious consumers.
Craft influences in US market
Over the last decade, the company has been developing a new drinking culture for the sparkling malt and hops beverage in Japan by presenting how the beer can be enjoyed in new occasions: such as when relaxing, after exercise and sports, or on a picnic.
Following this success, it believes the same path is possible for the brand in the US: a market that was already attractive at All-Free’s launch there in 2020 given its high beer consumption and role in setting wellness lifestyle trends.
However, the company found that it could not simply follow a cut-and-paste approach between the two markets when launching All-Free, Takeharu Nakai, director of US marketing and sales, told BeverageDaily: instead taking its time to learn about the craft influences and tastes in the US.
“We have been developing a new taste for the American market and worked on it for four years. During that time, we visited the US many times and tasted approximately 300 craft and non-alcoholic beers,” Nakai explained.
“Through our survey, we discovered that the US consumers are sensitive to flavor and aroma, and additionally, they tend to be more cautious about artificial flavors and sweeteners. After that, we repeated trial production many times in search of an aroma that would suit the American palette without artificial flavors and sweeteners.
“We entirely removed the fermentation process from the production of All-Free, which plays a key role in creating beer flavor and aroma. As there is no fermentation process, the quality of barley malts and hops directly affect the flavor of All-Free. Malt and hops are not processed foods, they are agricultural products. So, they can be affected by weather and production areas. It was very challenging to accomplish a beer-like taste without the usage of artificial sweeteners or flavors.
“However, we pursue the ideal beverage perfectly suit the US consumers’ taste and we were finally able to create a great non-alcoholic beverage that tastes like beer with zero calories and zero sugar. In addition, we were very particular about All-Free’s appearance with a goal to create a color which is both bright and highly transparent.”
All-Free stands out in the market because of what Nakai terms the ‘triple zero features’: zero alcohol, zero calories and zero sugar – achieved via the ‘unique production method, selected ingredients and our craftsmanship cultivated through 50 years of beer brewing’.
But what’s most intriguing to a western audience is the Japanese focus on ‘nodogoshi’: the Japanese expression for the enjoyable sensation of beverages or food passing through the throat when swallowing.
“All-Freeis delivered in a very beer-like form, as it uses the same type of two-row barley malt and selected hops as real beer," said Nakai.
"We believe that the nodogoshi of All-Free also takes a vital role in drawing a rich beer-like refreshing feeling, and unlike coffee, is consumed in a gulping manner.
“However, a nodogoshi can’t be created simply by using the same ingredients as real beer. This is because nodogoshi generally comes from stimulation of alcohol.
"Since All-Free is 0.00% alcohol, we needed to find a substitute for the alcohol-derived stimulation. Then, we focused on natural flavors, whose aroma contributes to the taste and stimulation, and were able to finally replicate the ideal throat sensation by combining the natural flavors and strong carbonation with professional skills.”
'A NA beverage has the potential to become a refreshment option'
Looking forward, the focus will be on expanding All-Free’s focus via an emphasis on its potential as a refreshment option across multiple occasions, rather than simply as a beer alternative.
“We think that there are still opportunities in daily occasions that consumers do not usually drink beer, but they feel like enjoying beer-like taste and that we can create a demand. A NA beverage has the potential to become a refreshment option which goes beyond just an alternative drink for an alcohol beverage.
“Therefore, we aim to communicate that All-Free is not just a beer alternative but a refreshing drink with the combination of triple zero that everyone can enjoy freely anywhere and anytime without any concerns.
“Our target audience is people who are highly conscious of their health needs and take active steps to improve their physical and mental well-being, especially as they grow older. They also enjoy exploring something new or different, as well as have more openness to diverse, exotic and foreign products/experiences, and more willingness to pay higher prices for those consumables/experiences.”