Sunny white wine (pic: Sunny Wines)
Asia Japan Wine

Merchants in Japan bullish on low-alcohol wines

With Tokyo Olympics in full swing and new lockdown measures in Japan, low-alcohol wines are quickly winning over health-conscious consumers.

With Tokyo Olympics in full swing and new lockdown measures in Japan, low-alcohol wines are quickly winning over health-conscious consumers.

The market for low- alcohol and non- alcoholic beverages is on the rise in the world. In Japan also, this market seems to be attracting attention. The Olympics host city Tokyo is currently under a state of emergency. Restaurants are forced not to sell alcoholic beverages and their operation hours are limited until 20:00. In this situation, consumers want to enjoy alcoholic beverages in a healthier way at home.

Low -alcohol category includes not only wines which are naturally low in alcohol such as several Vinho Verde or German wines, but also wines which have their alcohol levels reduced.

Among the latter category, I picked up some of the most popular low-alcohol wines in Japan and talked to three of the country’s major wine merchants including Mercian on their latest low-alcohol wine releases and why they are bullish on the beverage category.

WineInStyle

“Skinny” from Western Cape, South Africa, has a red and a white wine, each with 8.5% ABV. (pic: WineInStyle)
“Skinny” from Western Cape, South Africa, has a red and a white wine, each with 8.5% ABV. (pic: WineInStyle)

WineInStyle, which imports wines mainly from California, in addition Oregon, New York, Chile, Argentina and others, started the sale of low-alcohol wines as early as in the spring of 2019, which is before the outbreak of coronavirus disease.

The name of the wine is “Skinny” from the Western Cape,  South Africa, a red and a white with 8.5% ABV. Regarding the reason why they started to handle a low-alcohol wine,  Ms. Miki Saito, General Manager of  WineInStyle explains: “Many beverages are introduced in the market targeting for the health-conscious consumers. We thought it would be quite logical to show such alternatives to wine consumers.”

Consumers are now drinking wine at home because the operation of restaurants/bars are restricted. In this situation, “the sales of Skinny are increasing. The consumers who drink Skinny may be those who tend to drink much more at home or who are conscious about their health,” says Saito.

Saito is bullish on low-alcohol market.She expounds: “The market for low-alcohol wines is growing rapidly in the world. This trend will surely come to Japan, but not to the extent that is seen in Europe or the US because the consumption volume of wines in Europe or the US is much higher and they have different drink-driving laws. However, the market of low-alcohol wines in Japan will surely be established for the consumers who look for alcohol beverages which will have less impact on their health. “

WineInStyle plan to introduce other low-alcohol wines such as organically made ones.

Orca International

Sunny with Chance of Flowers is a low-alcohol wine from California (pic: Orca International)
Sunny with Chance of Flowers is a low-alcohol wine from California (pic: Orca International)

Orca International, which imports wines from Washington, Oregon, California, Bordeaux, and the Rhone Valley, started selling low-alcohol wines in October last year. The name of the wine is “Sunny with a Chance of Flowers” of Scheid Vineyards, Monterey, California.

All three ranges, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, have 9% ABV. “We have a long relationship with Scheid Vineyards. They proudly introduced Sunny to us, so we tasted it. More than anything, as the taste of Sunny was so good, we decided to import these wines to Japan,” says Ms. Noriko Hada, Managing Director of Orca International.

Originally, they planned to promote Sunny to restaurants that are their main customers; however, restaurants/bars in Tokyo are now prohibited to offer alcohol beverages under the declaration of a state of emergency. “For this reason, we are now promoting Sunny to our off-premise channels whose number is limited compared with that of our on-premise channels.  However, the sales are increasing, not explosively but steadily,” explains Hada.

Regarding the low-alcohol wine markets, she elaborates further: “It seems that consumers, who want to drink wines every day but worry about the excessive drinking, tend to select low-alcohol wines. Especially, in the recent increasing trend of drinking at home, low-alcohol wines may be a good choice. Surely, this market will grow. Consumers of wine are aging. Also, the number of consumers who worry about their health is increasing. In this situation, we believe that the sales of a product which is delicious and good for health will surely grow.

“Actually, we have sales calls from wineries with whom we do not have a relationship, but we would like to stick to our policy to be loyal to our client wineries, so we do not have a plan to expand our low-alcohol items. We do hope that more importers in Japan handle various low-alcohol wines and expand the low-alcohol wine market together,” she continues.

Mercian 

Bon Rouge 6 (pic: Mercian)
Bon Rouge 6 (pic: Mercian)

Mercian, a leading winery in Japan, announced the release of a domestic low-alcohol wine this month on 31 August. The name of wine is “Bon Rouge 6%”. The “Bon Rouge” is a daily red wine made in Japan which has been popular since its release in 1996.

Mercian decided to introduce a low-alcohol wine under this “Bon Rouge” series. Speaking of the new addition, Ms. Ayako Nagao from the marketing department of Mercian clarifies:  “According to a marketing research by Intage, among the beverages with less than 10% ABV (including non-alcoholic ones), wines occupy only 0.3%. This means that there is a potential to expand the market. This is supported by the sales figures of non-alcoholic products by Mercian for the period from January to June 2021, which saw an increase of 32% from the same period last year.”

Based on Mercian’s own research, they believe that consumers want to enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation, which reflects the rise of health consciousness. Mercian found that many women in their 30s and 40s want to enjoy wines with a serious taste at the alcohol degree of 4-6%.

Based on this research, Mercian set a consumer target: women in their 30s and 40s and the alcohol degree of 6%. “Bon Rouge 6%” is positioned as a serious daily low-alcohol wine. Consumers can refresh themselves without worrying about a hangover. Mercian also plans to release other low-alcohol and non-alcoholic wines/products in the near future.

As shown above, various low-alcohol wines are now on the market in Japan. It is not certain to what extent this market will grow in Japan, but surely it has a potential to expand. 

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