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Lychee, roses and hops: Top China brewer offers no-alcohol suds

CR Beer hopes to tap the global craze for healthier beverages at home

The global market for nonalcoholic beer reached $12.9 billion in 2019, jumping 46% from 2015. But in China, this market shrank 3.5% to $83.8 million. (Photo by Shin Watanabe)

DALIAN, China -- China's largest brewer is jumping into the market for nonalcoholic beers, which have taken the world by storm among young, health-conscious guzzlers, with its own concoction that features lychee, roses and hops.

China Resources Beer (Holdings), known as CR Beer, boasts an extensive sales network, and the beverage became available on Alibaba Group Holding's Taobao online shopping platform after debuting in March.

CR Beer plans to offer additional flavors, CEO Hou Xiaohai said. At an earnings announcement in late March, he vowed to develop the new product into "a brand supported by younger people."

A case of a dozen cans costs 75 yuan ($11.50). This translates to about 6 yuan per can, a tad more than the online price of 4 yuan to 5 yuan for the company's popular Snow beer.

CR Beer is following rivals into the market segment, which includes No. 2 player Tsingtao Brewery, fourth-ranked Beijing Yanjing Brewery and smaller peer Harbin Brewery.

Such no-alcohol beers are gaining fans abroad, including in Europe. The global market reached $12.9 billion in 2019, jumping 46% from 2015, data from Euromonitor shows. But in China, this market shrank 3.5% to $83.8 million.

China's public has been slower to take up these nonalcoholic drinks, touted as healthier alternatives, "due in part to the country's low GDP per capita," food industry analyst Zhu Danpeng said. The market will grow under the right conditions, such as higher incomes, the analyst predicted. But Zhu said it is unclear whether CR Beer will succeed in this space.

Consumers give mixed reviews. The new product "tastes like champagne, but it's too sweet," said a 40-something woman, while a 44-year-old man who avoids alcohol said he welcomes the juice-like taste.

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