Alcohol-free World #3: Shelf Sweep
What non-alcoholic beverages are available in Japan?
Hello, Market Shakers!
Let’s see what Japanese supermarkets and online retailers have to offer in the non-alcoholic drink category. Without surprises, beers are legions, followed by RTDs. But non-alcoholic wines and sake, yes, even sake! are coming to consumers’ tables.
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Sober drinkers better purchase their ‘No’ online.
Japan is going through a boom with an acceleration of non-alcoholic drink sales. But finding all the options available on the market in-store is still challenging. The major local brands—Asahi, Suntory, Kirin, Choya, and Mercian are easy enough to find at supermarkets and liquor stores. But smaller players and imported products are easier found online. With the current trends, though, retailers may be interested in giving more shelf space to their “non-alcoholic” section, already well occupied by the alcohol-free beers.
In-store, finding what you want isn’t always easy. Some supermarkets chain will gather all the non-alcoholic beverages in one place, with clear shelf labeling (ノンアルコール).
Other chains mix up the non-alcoholic options with their counter-alcoholic ones, with often beer and RTDs together, and the few remaining options, wines, plum wine, and sake, lost among alcoholic beverages.
The market is dominated by major local beer manufacturers Asahi, Suntory, Kirin, and Sapporo. A few imported products are available in retail and online. While non-alcoholic beer isn’t really an emerging category, the emphasis on health claims offers an interesting perspective on the Japanese market. Main beer manufacturers are also behind most of the interesting new RTDs launched on the Japanese market.
In the beer category, Asahi has two contenders, its Asahi Dry Zero, boasted as Japan N°1 non-alcoholic beer, and Healthy Style, a product with health claims. The beverage giant frequently renews its line-up style and launches time-limited products such as Summer Shot in summer 2021.
Kirin, another Japanese beverage giant, has a line-up of four non-alcoholic beers, including two products with health claims, the Karada Free (reduces intake of fat) and Perfect Free (reduces intake of fat and sugar).
Like its competitors, Suntory has launched a series of non-alcoholic beers that includes a conventional type and products with health claims. With its Collagen Rich (launched in 2018), the beer giant is specifically targeting women and consumers who care about their skin. Suntory also released a lime flavor non-alcoholic beer in 2016.
Sapporo launched its Premium Alcohol-Free beer in 2014 and since then, has developed more products, including Umami Shibori, with functional claims.
Large independent beer importer and owner of a smaller brewery, Nippon beer has developed and launched three different non-alcoholic beers, Ryouma 1865 and Ninja Lager in 2016, and Kachipura, in partnership with Amazon, in 2019.
Pioneer in non-alcoholic beverages, Panavac starting developing beers and wines as early as 1986. The company also imports alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages from around the world. Veritasbrau is their OEM product of Panavac, manufactured in Germany and sold in Japan.
Foreign brands available in Japan
A handful of foreign brands are imported into Japan. Some can be bought at liquor and import stores, but most are limited to online sales on Amazon, Rakuten, specialized online stores or at specialized bars.
Like its competitor, Suntory has launched a successful series of non-alcoholic chuhai, the “Non Aru Kibun” (loosely translated “In the mood for non-alcoholic”) since as early as 2011. The packaging design was renewed in early 2021. When it was first launched, the product lineup consisted only of cocktail flavors, but since then, the lineup has been expanded to include wine flavors, chuhai flavors, fruit wine flavors, and other flavors, bringing the total number of year-round products from three to ten. In addition to this, one or two seasonal products have been released depending on the season. In addition, for three consecutive years since the year following its launch (January 2012-December 2014), it has been the No. 1 brand in terms of the total sales value of non-alcoholic cocktails, chuhai, and plum wine flavors according to Intage MRI.
The series offers lemon sour, white sour, the classic cassis-orange, and other fruity flavors (grapefruit, grape), including a sparkling plum liquor flavor for a total of seven regular products available all year round. But playing with Japanese consumers’ love for time-limited flavors, the beverage manufacturer frequently releases new products available for a few months per year only (27 flavors to date since 2011). For example, they launched pineapple and lychee flavors in summer 2017, peach in winter 2018, pear in Autumn 2019, strawberry and apple in winter 2019.
In March 2021, the company released their non-alcoholic ‘Non Aru Banshaku’ (“dinner time”) Lemon Sour. In July, they announced reviewing their sales target from nearly a million cases (24 bottles of 250ml) to 2 million, double of their original projection. In four months, they reached 80% of their initial yearly sales plan. Convinced consumers are turning to bulk purchases, they released a six-bottle pack following this success.
Asahi Style Balance
On top of its beer series, Asahi has an impressive and growing line-up of non-alcoholic beverages starting with Asahi Style Balance, a series of shochu liquor like RTDs with fruity flavors (lemon, grapefruit, yuzu, strawberry). Launched in 2012, they imitate the classic chuhai cocktails popular in Japan.
In parallel, they released their Zero Kaku series (sparkling Chardonnay, cassis-orange mocktail, and Fuzzy Navel).
In this particular sector, Kirin has been shy compared to its competitors Asahi and Suntory. However, the company bet on functional claims, launching two non-alcoholic chuhai in partnership with FANCL Corporation, a Japanese cosmetics, and dietary supplements company. The series called Zero Hai Kori Rei (Ice Zero) was released in 2020 and has two flavors, lemon, and grapefruit.
Sapporo currently doesn’t offer non-alcoholic RTDs but did so in the past. In 2012, the company released a series of two non-alcoholic chuhai—lemon and grapefruit. They renewed the packing design in 2013 but ended withdrawing the product from the market the next year. In 2020, the Hokkaido-based beverage manufacturer revived its lemon sour version under a new name, the Sapporo Special Lemon Sour, for a limited in-time sale. The product is no longer available.
Sangaria is a Japanese manufacturer and wholesaler of drinks and alcoholic beverages. In 2014, they launched their Chuhai Taste Zero with three flavors, lemon, grapefruit, and plum. In 2018, the company added a high ball version to its series.
The Japanese national liquor company Choya is particularly known for its plum wine (umeshu in Japanese). In 2011, they launched a non-alcoholic sparkling plum wine. Choya developed an additional version with functional claims, first launched in 2019 and renewed in 2021. In parallel, they added yuzu and lemon flavors. The company boasts that their sparkling plum wine has been the number one selling non-alcoholic plum wine in Japan for eight years (based on Nikkei POS data between 2011 and 2018).
Mercian Corporation (Kirin)
The Tokyo-based operating unit of Kirin, primarily engaged in the production and retail of wine and other alcoholic beverages, Mercian Corporation launched MOCK Bar, a brand of non-alcoholic sangria in June 2021. Two flavors are currently available, Orange and Mango Mix and Pear and Pineapple Mix. MOCK bar is based on non-alcoholic wine extract, blended with fruit juices, spices and herbs. According to Mercian, the product has been well received, especially among young customers who like to drink alcohol but want to enjoy their time without getting drunk or who are looking for a premium and special premium non-alcoholic product. Within a month of the launch, the sales already exceeded 40% of the annual sales target.
Alps Vin Free
Manufactured by the Alps Winery in Shiojiri, in Nagano Prefecture, Vin Free is a brand offering red, white, and sparkling non-alcoholic wines.
The manufacturer or winery behind Chamei remains a mystery. While produced in France, this series of red, white, and sparkling non-alcoholic wines are solely sold in Japan. They’re imported by the subsidiary of Seijo Ishi, a premium supermarket chain, since 2013.
Katsunuma Grape 0% is a non-alcoholic wine produced by Japanese winery Chateau Katsunuma using a patented process that doesn’t produce alcohol.
Several majors brands are imported to Japan, however, consumers can mostly purchase them online and they’re rarely seen in stores.
A phenomenon in France, Europe, and Asia, Opia is an organic French wine brand providing a wide range of options in the non-alcoholic wine category, starting with White and Sparkling Chardonnay, Rosé, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Opia distinguishes itself from other brands by a unique manufacturing process that doesn’t involve de-alcoholization of their wines—they’re free from alcohol from the start. The brand is imported into Japan by the importer and distributor Pacific Yoko.
Belgium distributor of beverages focused on innovation, Neobulles is behind the leading alcohol-free premium wine brand Vintense. Contrary to Opia, their wines are made thanks to a unique de-alcoholization process. Their portfolio includes a range of fine bubbles, grape varieties of non-alcoholic wines, and sparkling mocktails.
Online retail offers a wide range of choices of lesser-known wines, for which information is sometimes hard to come by.
Duc de Montagne, a sparkling wine from Belgium
Gocce Di Luna, a Prosecco Sparkling from Italy
Caprice, a sparkling wine from South Africa
Vendome Mademoiselle, a sparkling organic wine from France
1688 Grand Rose, a rose made in France
Keror, a festive and premium sparkling wine from Normandie, France, and produced by Eclor
NON, an Australian wine alternative brand
Carl Jung Wines, a wholesaler of non-alcoholic wine going back to the 80s
Les Cocottes, chardonnay
Non-alcoholic Spirits and Liquors
Brewery Kosho Jozo
In April 2011, Kagoshima-based brewer Kosho Jozo released Kozuru Zero, the industry’s first non-alcoholic potato shochu, a traditional hard liquor. The sales grew faster than expected and the company sold over 100,000 bottles in seven months. It took the brewer nearly a year of hard work and over a hundred prototypes before reaching the right flavor. The idea sparked from consumers asking for a sober alternative to this popular liquor.
Based in Wakayama Prefecture, the brewer Kokonoesaika has developed plum (2012) and yuzu-based (2016) non-alcoholic liquors. Named Rock’n Plum and Rock’n Yuzu.
In 2019, Choya announced the launch of the “Authentic Plum Wine Brew” with 0% of alcohol, a perfect alternative for connoisseurs looking to cut their alcohol consumption and consumers that cannot drink alcohol but appreciate the plum flavor. With its rich, gorgeous aroma and rich, full-bodied flavor, it can be enjoyed not only on the rocks but also with soda or as a cocktail base.
Craft cola brand created in 2018, Tomo Cola aims to use only local and 100% natural ingredients, with no additives for its beverage. In May 2020, the young beverage manufacturer launched “the non-al spirits,” a drink close to gin after a popular non-alcoholic pop-up store held in Shibuya for four months. Tomo Cola came up with two flavors, Blue Paradise from Western botanical influences, and Green Paradise inspired by Japanese plants.
Gekkeikan is an old sake brewery, now also a wine and beer importer and wholesaler, based in Kyoto. In 2014, the brewer launched Gekkeikan Free, a Daiginjo-like sake with 0.00% of alcohol, renewed in 2015 and re-launched under a new name, Special Free, in 2019. In September 2021, Gekkaikan rebranded the packaging design and released a dry alternative to Special Free. Special Free reproduces the sake taste by combining flavors, spices, and amino acids and is not a dealcoholized product.
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