Alcohol-free World #2: Consumers' Sound Bites

What do Japanese consumers have to say about non-alcoholic beverages?

Hello, Market Shakers! 

Today, let take a quick look at what consumers are saying about non-alcoholic beverages. We mostly gathered data and feedback on the beer category—the most prominent one. Information related to RTDs or wine is still scarce. But future surveys might shed some light on the latest trends of the year 2021. 

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Summary of this edition

  • Health is a key driver

  • Latest surveys

  • Consumers’ feedback

Health beyond innovation and consumption.

In 2019, Global Data Consumer commented how health was a driver for non-alcoholic beverage innovation and consumption. Like in other food and beverage trends happening in Japan, consumer health awareness is a key motivation. Brands do not stop at simply making 0.00% ABV products. They play with other positives attributes such as sugarless and sugar-free (Kirin Perfect Free), functional additives against fat (Suntory All Free), collagen-fortified (Suntory Collagen Rich). In addition, the category “resonate with older drinkers as new healthy alternatives,” attracting the young generations, “less fond of conventional beer.”

Latest surveys

The Suntory survey on non-alcoholic beverage category (2019)

In June 2019, beverage giant Suntory released a survey on the non-alcoholic beverage market. They noted a 103% growth year on year in 2018 and a similar increase for 2019, four times the size of the market ten years ago. 

According to their data at the time, more than half of Japanese consumers had tried a non-alcoholic beverage, with 70% feeling the taste was as expected or even better than expected. The company research also found that frequent drinkers are driven by taste and health benefits—Suntory is a top leader with its All Free series of functional non-alcoholic beverages. 

In the same line, respondents increased their consumption compared to the previous year for the same reason: taste and health. Consumers mostly look for a non-alcoholic drink to relax and when traveling, but not so much in a socialization context, with summer as the preferred season, with an overwhelming majority (90%) of respondents saying they’re likely to drink more in summer. 

What does the latest consumer survey on non-alcoholic beer tell us? (2020)

In January 2020,, a research company belonging to the ITOCHU group, conducted an Internet survey on non-alcoholic beer, the ninth dedicated to this category. 

They found that 30% of respondents consumed non-alcoholic beer within the past year, with Asahi Dry Zero (31%) and Suntory All Free (29%) accounting for over 60% of respondents’ consumption. Kirin Zero Ichi comes next with a little over 9%. Compared to past surveys, they noted how sales of other brands such as Sapporo are downward. Dry Zero is the top non-alcoholic beer among men, while All Free is popular with women.

To the question “what is important when choosing a non-alcoholic beer?” respondents brought up taste first (65.3%), proximity to beer (36.9%), feeling good drinking it (28.4%), and price (22.9%). While men focused more on taste and especially the proximity to beer, women respondents seemed more sensitive to the functionality of beverages. 

When it comes to drinking occasions, dinner time is a privileged moment for a drink (41.%), and driving comes next (19%), on a downward trend from past surveys. The traditional after-bath drinks and drinking parties barely reach 10% each—a ground where non-alcoholic beverages have difficulty making space next to their alcoholic counterparts. 

The survey’s last question let the respondents give their reasons for drinking or not drinking non-alcoholic beer. Most respondents mentioned that they like beer but cannot drink alcohol for health reasons. Some also said it helps with peer pressure at drinking parties and is a convenient way to join the fun while not consuming juice or soda. 

Among the free comments left by respondents, a lot mentioned liking alcoholic beer but embracing sobriety for health reasons. The non-alcoholic option comes as a substitute for most. They also noted how taste has improved compared to a few years ago. Consumers who dislike non-alcoholic beer often initially dislike beer, so the flavor is a negative attribute. Others mentioned how confused they were about a beer without alcohol. 

What about social noise?

In December 2020, the search trend for non-alcoholic beverages hit a record within the past five years. The category is also becoming increasingly present on social media, with some buzzes even.

Consumers’ feedback

Koji, 60s, married

Koji works at a relatively traditional Japanese company, and that means regular drinking parties after meetings. During one of these events, he tried non-alcoholic beer. He doesn’t know at which point in time it popped up on the menu, which each department in rotation organizes.

I assume someone complained about ‘alcohol harassment,’ so they ordered alternative drinks. I was curious and gave it a try. I don’t remember the brand, but it sure tasted like beer. But to me, it’s like a sparkling wheat tea of some sort. I guess it’s a nice substitute for those who can’t drink beer, but at the same time, isn’t tea enough as a choice? Our younger colleagues seem to drink less alcohol than our generations. I don’t know why. But our job is to conduct business, which involves a drinking culture with our clients and partners. I don’t think the new generation is compatible with our line of work. Of course, if they’re somewhat sick and can’t drink for health reasons, that’s another matter.

Akishi, 30s, married

Akishi drinks non-alcoholic beer regularly. Worried about his alcoholic consumption at work, he quitted both alcohol and the job. 

My company had a strong drinking culture, and I had no choice but to join. My manager took our team to a bar one time, and when the waiter announced the last order, he ordered ten large bottles (633 ml) that we had to finish. I was really fed up and quitted my job, vowing never to drink again. But I do like the taste of beer, so non-alcoholic substitutes offer me a good alternative. 

Akishi enjoys a non-alcoholic beer to refresh himself, like after a time-consuming task, meeting, a long workday, and of course, after taking a hot bath. He tried non-alcoholic sake, which he likes. But the only available brand in Japan isn’t easy to find. He’s also curious about other non-alcoholic wines. 

I started drinking one can or two for dinner time or right after eating, but I don’t remember at which point this became regular. My wife was very enthusiastic about me quitting drinking alcohol, but my increased consumption of ‘fake’ beer doesn’t reassure her somehow! But initially, I wasn’t an at-home beer drinker, so I don’t feel like this is a replacement for beer. I drink it just as it is. You know what I mean?

Kana, 30s, married

Kana’s story is a classic, at least in Japan. During her pregnancy, she missed the taste of beer and wine. She couldn’t find wine, but she did see plenty of non-alcoholic beer, chuhai, and plum wine. 

I tried a non-alcoholic beer and liked it. So I started drinking regularly. But as I stopped breastfeeding, I switched back to my favorite alcoholic beverage. Today, I’ll take an alternative drink only if I have to drive. I’m pretty bored when I drive, so I buy a couple of cans and keep them in the cooling box. 

Yuya, 20s, single

Out of curiosity, Yuya tried the non-alcoholic plum wine of Choya. He felt it was like juice, but liked the taste better compared to Aeon’s brand. 

I honestly can’t tell the difference between plum juice and non-alcoholic plum wine. Maybe I should drink both brands at the same time? As for non-alcoholic beer, I don’t see the point. These products don’t make sense to me, so I’ve never tried them. They’re sold as “beers” and “wines” that won’t make you drunk, but aren’t they just water with taste? If you’re not getting tipsy, then what’s the point? I dislike alcohol much, especially beer and wine, so I wouldn’t naturally pick up alternatives to these beverages. 

Despite a clear judgment on the matter, Yuya recalled having tried Budweiser and being surprised by the taste. 

I quite liked it and heard that they filter beer and add some flavoring. The manufacturer says it doesn’t take like beer, and that fits my needs. Japanese brands, on the other hand, try so hard to render the taste of beer. I don’t why they want to imitate the taste so much.

See you next Tuesday!

Let’s see what Japanese stores have on shelves for a sober party.

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