Are Japan’s drinkers losing their thirst for alcohol free?

Are Japan’s drinkers losing their thirst for alcohol free?

Ten years ago there wasn’t much of a market for alcohol free beverages in Japan.

As anyone who’s lived and worked in this urban maze knows, drinking after work several times a month is an expected, although unwritten part of the job, a tread mill for workers and monolithic beer companies alike. 

That changed in 2009 when Kirin launched it’s “Kirin Free” targeting drivers, plus a growing army of health conscious workers. Not to be outdone, Kirin’s initiative was quickly researched and duplicated by the likes of Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory.

Kirin all free

By 2011 the non-alcoholic beer market had grown almost 10 times in size to a whopping 21 million cases a year.

The category further expanded with ready to drink cocktails, chuhai (a shochu based beverage) and plum wines. For a while these additions added another 6 million cases to the pile.

However sales data for the last 3 years has revealed both non-alcoholic beers and cocktails are at best stagnant, if not declining. This in spite of manufacturers’ best efforts which have variously included “certified healthy” beers (Tokuho), “zero calorie” and even an “all free collagen” innovation.

Clutching at straws or grounded in fundamental consumer insights? Am I alone in wondering if they really deeply understand their core target audience and their needs?

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