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Brewers increase product types amid rising trend of 'non-beer' drinks

As consumer tastes expand to encompass a wide variety of alcoholic offerings, major beer companies are increasing their sales of additional drink types -- catering to demographics such as women and young adults -- with this spring's featured lineup including beverages that might best be described as upscale, fresh, and contemporary.

    "We'd like to crack into a new market," commented a representative from the Kirin Co., which plans to launch limited-edition sales of "Hyoketsu Premium" -- a deluxe version of its classic "Hyoketsu" chuhai -- in the Kanto area on April 5.

    The 240-millileter beverage will feature twice the amount of fruit juices, including Sicilian lemon, while the container will be a fancy bottle rather than the usual aluminum can. The shelf price will be on the pricey end, at 198 yen.

    In order to take customer needs closely into account and respond accordingly, numerous companies are rapidly adding new products to their lineup -- including chuhai, which is lower in alcohol content than whisky, wine or Japanese sake, for example, and is thus preferred by a wide variety of consumers.

    Suntory Spirits Ltd. will launch sales on March 29 of its "-196 Goku Kire," which is less sweet than its other beverages, and has an alcohol content of 6 percent -- about the same as beer. This will join the company's existing "Strong Zero" product series, which has a similarly low level of sweetness, and an alcohol content of 8 to 9 percent.

    Explaining its objective in introducing the "Goku Kire" product, a public relations representative from the company commented, "We wanted to appeal to those customers who may prefer an unsweetened taste -- but who may have been avoiding (the "Strong Zero" beverages) because a 9 percent alcohol content was too high for them."

    Meanwhile, Sapporo Breweries Ltd. will begin sales in April of its Bacardi Rum High Ball -- a lightly sweet-tasting highball that features rum rather than whisky, and is mixed with soda, which the company says offers a "new taste experience."

    Asahi Breweries Ltd., whose major product lineup has so far included only a scant number of chuhai, will be attempting to make up for lost time by launching sales in April of its "freshly-squeezed" chuhai series, which only utilize juice from fruit that has been squeezed within the previous 24 hours.

    Behind such companies' moves to expand their product offerings beyond beer lies the changing structure of the market. While the amount of beer shipped domestically in 2015 showed an upturn for the first time in 19 years, the expansion of this category to encompass "beer products" -- happoshu and beer-flavored drinks (the latter of which is known as "the third beer") -- results in the figure showing an ongoing decrease, with 2015 figures only three-quarters of those from 2000.

    The reason for the decrease is found in the trends of declining births and the aging of the population, as well as a diversification of consumer tastes.

    The market for beverages such as chuhai, however, is showing a continuing increasing trend.

    According to figures from the Kirin Co., the total figure for domestic sales of non-beer alcoholic drinks such as chuhai, highball, and cocktails was the equivalent of 306,000 kiloliters in 1999. When sales of 'Hyoketsu' that utilized a base of vodka instead of shochu were launched in 2001, the image of chuhai underwent a transformation -- with sales in the following year of 2002 suddenly surpassing 500,000 kiloliters. By 2015, the figure had soared to 856,000 kiloliters.

    With the beer market forecast to experience a downturn, non-beer drinks represent an area of growth for companies in the industry, with a representative describing such beverages as "able to be expanded to encompass numerous products, and easily adaptable to consumers' needs."

    Clearly, a continued infusion of new products in this regard will result in the potential for an ongoing expansion of the market.

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