It’s a sobering trend that’s taking hold of Japan. The market for non-alcoholic beverages in the country is estimated to have expanded nearly more than four times compared with that of ten years ago. Non-alcoholic beverages were once introduced as an alternative to alcoholic beverages as a response to dangerous drunk driving; however, today various products of non-alcoholic beverages are available for different reasons. The popularity of non-alcoholic beverages is so immense that a bar serving only non-alcoholic beverages opened in July for the first time in Japan. Mari Yasuda explains here the magnificent rise of alcohol-free beverage in Japan.
Expansion of the market for non-alcoholic beverages
A boom in non-alcoholic beverages in Japan started in 2009, when Kirin Beer, one of the four major beer brewers in Japan, introduced a non-alcoholic beer-like beverage with 0.00% alcohol content, named “Kirin Free”. The other three major beer brewers, Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory followed Kirin and launched their own non-alcoholic beverages. These products have led to an increase in the consumption of non-alcoholic beverages.
In 2010, non-alcoholic RTD (ready to drink) beverages, referring to these packaged drinks that are ready for consumption such as shochu-based cocktails were introduced. From 2015 onwards, several products which appeal to the benefits of health, such as “zero – calorie” ,“ zero – carbohydrate” or “with collagen”, were released. This diversified both non-alcoholic beer-tasting and other non-alcoholic beverages.
According to the data released by Suntory last June, which offers a non-alcoholic beer-like beverage named “All-Free”, the market for non-alcoholic beverages in Japan in 2018 was about 22 million cases, which is a 3% increase from the previous year. The market in 2019 was estimated to be around 23 million cases, also a 3% increase from that of 2018 ( one case is 633ml＊20 bottles). Non-alcoholic beer-like beverages occupied around 86% of the total non-alcoholic beverage sales. The market volume for non-alcoholic beverages is estimated to be more than four times from that of ten years ago.
Asahi Beer announced on 21 July that they will start building a brewery for non-alcoholic beer-like beverages at their factory in Hakata, Kyushu, in the western part of Japan. The total amount of investment is 3.1 billion yen (US$29.2 million). Construction will start this month and they aim to begin operations in May, 2021. As a result of this expansion of production capacity, they will be able to produce one million cases of non-alcoholic beer-like beverages, including their flagship “Dry Zero”, in a year. “Dry Zero” has recorded top sales for the fourth straight year in 2019 in the category of non-alcoholic beer-tasting beverages based on the data of Intage SRI.
“Tasty and healthy”
The reasons behind alcohol-free drinks’ rise are diversifying as well. The above mentioned Suntory’s research surveyed 1,238 consumers and found that they have drunk non-alcoholic beer-like beverages at least once a month. The data shows more than half (51.6%) of those consumers replied that the consumption volume increased compared to that of the previous year. The two most frequent reasons were: “the taste of non-alcoholic beer-like beverages had improved” （61.4%）, and “in order to create/increase the number of dry days”（31.2%). In contrast, “due to the increase of driving opportunity” was only 12.9%.
From these results, as Suntory analyzes, it can be concluded that the demand for non-alcoholic beer-like beverages is mainly driven by taste, health and wellness, ahead of the more conventional reason for driving.
According to another survey of Suntory via Instagram in May this year, one out of 3.8 people replied “OK ” to drink a non-alcoholic beverage during remote working as a refreshment（out of a total of 27,676 replies, 7,196 answered ‘Ok’, and 20,480 for ‘No’). Suntory analyzes this result as a sign, in which non-alcoholic beverages start to be positively seen in business situations, although a thoughtful attitude is required because the reply of “No” is still a majority.
The first bar with only non-alcoholic beverages in Japan
On 16 July, 2020, the first bar in Japan with only non-alcoholic beverages named ‘0% NON-ALCOHOL EXPERIENCE’ opened in Roppongi , Tokyo, where many trendsetting restaurants, bars and shops are concentrated.
Aside from serving non-alcoholic beverages only, all their food is vegan friendly. 0% NON-ALCOHOL EXPERIENCE means that their drinks are all 0.00% alcohol; furthermore, it reflects their philosophy to “provide everyone with the time to reset their hearts and minds to zero”.
Almost one month after its opening, response has been overwhelming. “ Currently we take advance reservations only and, thankfully, we have many reservations every day. Not only customers who cannot drink alcohol but also those who take children with them or who drive a car come to our bar. Many customers come here for various purposes such as a business meeting or an exchange of ideas among creators. Even though they do not drink alcohol, they can discuss issues seriously or they can spend time in their own rhythm. We are very happy to see that our customers enjoy the time to reset their minds to zero,” said Mayumi Yamamoto, the producer of 0% NON-ALCOHOL EXPERIENCE.
The beverages listed on the menu are far from so-called “soft drinks” which are associated with non-alcoholic, sweet drinks. Rather, all drinks are a kind of completed piece of art.
‘A Real Pleasure’ cocktail perhaps best represents the concept of this bar. Basil and vetiver are mixed in, and you can enjoy gorgeous aroma and flavour. Yamamoto says this is popular for both alcohol and non-alcohol drinkers. ‘Iceland Bubble”, another concoction that comes with bubbles, and you can enjoy soft smoky aromas, after the bubbles burst, with a touch of pineapple, jasmine tea and ginger. This is also popular due to its rich flavor .
Yamamoto talked about the bar’s interesting future plans, “ We would like to provide an opportunity for customers to release their stresses when faced with multiple tasking and information and to find their own pure feelings or creative ideas. Beginning from this non-alcoholic beverage bar, we want to continue providing various opportunities to reset to “zero” for the future. “
As shown above, non-alcoholic beverages are not “the drinks which imitate alcoholic drinks without alcohol”, or “sweet, cold soft drinks” any more. Today, they are an established beverage category with additional value which provides an attractive choice to consumers. And they can be enjoyed anytime even during work. The evolvement of this market will continue to expand.
*IWSR also published a detailed infographic to give an overview of the non-alcoholic market below.