Kirin’s new Hyakunen Kiwami Lemon Sour is an RTD canned chu-hai or shochu highball that is made using beer yeast to ferment lemon juices, a first for the company and an example of its upcycling efforts as the beer yeast is a byproduct from its beer production.
“To make this new product, we used multiple types of lemon juices in combination with lemon juice fermented with beer yeast that was used in some of our existing products – one of the lemon juices used was squeezed from the lemon peel, so none of this is wasted,” Kirin Corporate Communications Assistant Manager Yutaro Yasuhira told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“This was in an effort to create a new RTD product as the RTD market in Japan has doubled in size over the past decade till 2022, driven a lot by a ‘fun of choice’ trend that many consumers enjoy.
“Lemon flavours account for some 47% of the RTD market as of 2022 and is very well established and popular in the main drinking occasions where alcoholic beverages are involved, such as during meals, because lemon conveys a refreshing sensation.”
Kirin also believes the RTD format is gaining traction in the market.
“We are seeing consumers increase their time spent at home, which leads to more drinking occasions, and in terms of preferences there has been a clear rise in the preference for drinks that not only ‘go well with meals’ but are also ‘not sweet’,” he added.
“As a result, there have been many less-sweet [alcoholic] products designed for consumption with meals – and with more and more products in the market there is now a strong impression of ‘RTDs go well with meals’, which has further expanded consumption opportunities.
“There are more consumers today than before that are seeing RTDs as a clear option in addition to beers, with many of these tending to shop around for a variety of products.”
That said, there is also a strong call amongst consumers for alcohol beverage makers to improve on the authenticity factor when it comes to their product innovation, which Kirin is trying to ensure is addressed.
“This segment of consumers – especially beer drinkers – tends to feel that RTDs lack this authenticity, which really means guaranteed high quality and overwhelmingly good taste that is worth the price, much more so than a comparable standard product,” he said.
“Due to these sentiments, a need has emerged for beer alternatives that are authentic and satisfying – even some high-unit-price RTDs that have been on the market for some time have seen their image decline in this regard over time, and the fact that they no longer meet consumer expectations is both a challenge and an opportunity [for innovation].”
Kirin Hyakunen Kiwami Lemon Sour will remain a product exclusive to the Japanese market until further notice.
Alcohol taxation impacts
Japan will be seeing a flurry of liquor tax revisions in 2026,which Kirin and other alcohol brands are putting strategies in place to handle – but for now, the prospects remain pretty optimistic for the sector despite having this shadow hanging around.
“In 2023, we expect a moderate growth of up to 2%, taking advantage of the [upcoming] October liquor tax revisions,” Yasuhira said.
“This growth trend is expected to continue in the mid- to long-term, at least until 2026 when the liquor tax revision is scheduled to take effect.”
Chu-hai products in particular are expected to see a JPY20 (US$0.15) per litre from JPY80 in 2020 to JPY100 in 2026.