June 18, 2017 2:00 am JST

Japan brewers boost nonalcoholic beer production

Kirin, Suntory say the beverages are catching on as lifestyles change

TOKYO -- With their nonalcoholic beers gaining popularity and sales of the real stuff declining, Japan's Kirin Brewery and Suntory Beer are switching gears.

Kirin plans to boost monthly production of its Zeroichi, which is selling beyond the company's expectations, to three times the initial target, while Suntory is increasing the June-July production of its All-Free by about 10% from a year ago. This will lift Suntory's full 2017 production target by 4%, to 7.2 million cases [one case equals 20 633ml bottles].

The industry says more Japanese are turning to these and similar products so they can feel as though they are out drinking while really at work or doing daytime chores.

Kirin sold 630,000 cases of Zeroichi -- nearly 50% of its initial annual target -- in just two months.

The brewery's president, Takayuki Fuse, said Zeroichi's unexpectedly strong sales are partly attributable to Japan's changing lifestyles.

"The [government's] work reform drive has expanded the breadth of lifestyles," Fuse said. "There are more people who finish work for the day and then still have to do child-rearing and household chores, and these people want something refreshing that does not get them drunk."

Suntory estimates that nonalcoholic beer sales in Japan will grow 2% this year to 18 million cases.

On the other side of the coin, sales of regular beer are on the wane. This is not likely to change, considering the National Tax Agency on June 1 began clamping down on what it calls excessive discounts on alcoholic beverages.

According to Nikkei research, retail prices of beer in the second week of June were 8% higher than in the fourth week of May. In addition, about 20% less beer was sold in the second week of June than in the comparison week.

Breweries will likely be scampering for new revenue sources.

(Nikkei)

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