Did “Strong Zero!” Win the Battle? Canned Chu-hi and Highball’s Fierce Battle of Idea Prducts | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Did “Strong Zero!” Win the Battle? Canned Chu-hi and Highball’s Fierce Battle of Idea Prducts

Suntory is the leader with "Strong" and "Hollowayoi" / Kirin is following with "Hyoketsu" and "Hon Shibori" / Asahi is competing with "Luxury Shibori" / Sapporo is making great strides with "Dense" / Takara Shuzo with "Shochu High Ball" / Coca-Cola's "Graduates" is popular.

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RTDs purchased at a convenience store near the editorial office, with sales claims such as “sugar-free” and alcohol content in line with trends.

Young people don’t drink beer anymore?

On a Friday night when the FRIDAY reporter visited a convenience store in Tokyo, a group of four salarymen in their 20s, who appeared to be “drinking at home,” were filling their baskets with a large number of canned chu-hi drinks, paying no attention to the beer section.

The tax rate for beer has been lowered, but the tax rate for chu-hi (canned chu-hi) is still the same as before. Although the tax rate for beer was lowered, the tax rate for third-category beers such as ‘Kinmugi’ and ‘Honkirin’ was increased. Since the price of popular products that have been the friend of the common people is going up, it is expected that third beer drinkers will flow into “ready to drink” (RTD), whose price will remain the same,” said Keisuke Kono, an economics journalist.

RTD stands for “ready-to-drink beverage,” and refers to low-alcohol beverages other than beer and wine, such as canned chuhai, canned cocktails, and canned highballs, etc. Since the tax rate on RTD remains unchanged, consumers can continue to enjoy their evening drinks with peace of mind. Among the most popular are canned chu-hi and canned highballs. Uncle Strong,” a canned chu-hi researcher who drinks more than 1,000 RTDs a year and posts product reviews on the Internet, explains.

In 1984, Takara Shuzo released Japan’s first canned chu-hi, “Takara can chu-hi,” which was a huge hit, selling 5.81 million cases (24 cans of 250 ml each) in the following year. The following year, it was a huge hit, selling 5.81 million cases (24 bottles of 250 ml each), establishing its position as a “standard beverage for salarymen.

The image of Takara Shuzo’s dominance was drastically changed by Kirin’s “Hyoketsu,” released in 2001. Until then, most chu-hi drinks were shochu-based and had a low fruit juice content. However, Hyoketsu was vodka-based, and its fresh fruit juice and sweet, juice-like flavor won explosive support among young people. Since then, the RTD market has grown steadily. New products have been introduced one after another by various companies.

While Hyoketsu’s dominance continues, a new force has been on the rampage since around 2010. The strong boom has been fueled by such products as “-196°C Strong Zero” (Suntory), which contains 9% alcohol by volume.

There were two factors behind the boom. One is that the long-lasting recession has increased the demand for cheap, intoxicating drinks. The other was the start of metabolic syndrome checkups in 2008, which raised awareness of low sugar and purine content, and led to a shift away from beer. Since Strong Zero contains no sugar or purine, it fits perfectly with this demand,” said Mr. Strong.

However, even if it is cheap and intoxicating, it is meaningless if it does not taste good. Drinks expert and consultant, Takahiro Ezawa, says, “The chu-hai served in restaurants is not as good as that of chu-hai.

Compared to chu-hi served at restaurants, canned chu-hi drunk at home has a weak lemon flavor, which has been a bottleneck. However, Strong Zero is made by freezing whole lemons at -196°C and adding crushed lemon juice. The flavor is enhanced by the inclusion of the strong-scented rind. It became a hit as a shop-style lemon sour with a fresh lemon aroma the moment you opened the can.

Suntory was quick to grasp the zeitgeist and began creating a highball boom around the same time. The company began promoting the drink mainly at izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) in 2009, producing hit products such as “Kaku Highball Can” and “Tris Highball Can,” which featured actress Yuriko Yoshitaka in its commercials (from 2010). Like Strong Zero, it contains no sugar and is characterized by its refreshing taste.

Suntory has always been a company that produces high-end whiskey such as Yamazaki and Hibiki, as well as a variety of spirits such as gin. In the production process of chu-hi and highballs, we have been able to leverage this strength to create a wide variety of new products.’ The company’s acquisition of major American brewer Beam in 2002 was also significant. We acquired ‘Jim Beam,’ the world’s best-selling bourbon,” he said.

Suntory’s RTD sales last year totaled approximately 1.95 billion units, making it the number one selling RTD among Japanese companies by a wide margin. Suntory has been able to keep its competitors at bay with the number of moves it has made, such as the low-sugar, high-alcohol hits Strong Zero and Kaku Highball Can Dark (both 9% alcohol), and the low-alcohol drink Horoyoi (3% alcohol), which can be drunk like a juice, which it launched in 2009.

A Shake-up of the “One Powerhouse

Kirin, with annual sales of approximately 1.24 billion bottles, is following in the footsteps of Suntory. As mentioned above, Kirin has been achieving stable results with its two signature products, the biggest-selling RTD “Hyoketsu” and “Hon Shibori,” a fruit juice-enhancing beverage.

Kirin’s strength lies in the fact that it does not rest on its laurels, even though it has the number one product. The company is seeking synergies between RTDs and beer production technology. which was released on October 17, is also a product that utilizes fermentation technology, such as the use of rice malt extract.

One would think that beer makers with large sales channels and standard products would be the strongest, but Takara Shuzo, an old and respected brewer, boasts the third largest sales in the industry at approximately 500 million bottles per year.

Takara Shuzo is the oldest canned chu-hi maker in the industry and has absolute confidence in its own Takara Shochu. That’s why we omit unnecessary wording and design, and compete with products with simple names such as ‘shochu highball’ and ‘can chu-hi.

Recently, we launched “Gokujo [Takara Shochu] Tanchu. This unusual drink is made by mixing soda and the company’s own shochu in a unique golden ratio and adding no seasoning. The decision to leave it untouched so that consumers can make their own arrangements is a decision that could only be made if the original shochu was delicious,” says Ezawa.

Asahi Breweries, whose beer products such as “Super Dry” dominate the market, ranks fourth in the industry with products such as “Luxury Squeeze” and “The Lemon Craft,” which sell a fruity taste.

Sapporo Beer, which sells about 210 million bottles a year with products such as “Dark Lemon Sour,” is fifth in the industry, but has been quick to act in response to the revision of the Liquor Tax Law.

In October, the company converted part of its Sendai brewery to a production line exclusively for RTDs in response to the anticipated contraction of the beer market. This decision has paid off, and there is a good chance that the company will make a breakthrough,” said Mr. Kono.

While sake brewers are competing with each other, Coca-Cola, a major soft drink company, is vigilantly seeking domination of the market. Mr. Ezawa, the aforementioned Coca-Cola, said, “Coca-Cola launched a new product in 2007.

The lemon sour “Graduates,” launched in 2007, was such a big hit that shipments had to be halted because production could not keep up with demand. The ease of drinking a lemon squash-like drink is a strength of the company because it is the leader in the soft drink industry. The Coca-Cola Company is also good at marketing, so they have created many variations of the same Graduates brand, such as “Unsweetened” and “Umashio Lemon.

They also have a sales network that secures shelves in convenience stores to market it. In April of this year, the company launched “Jack Daniel & Coca-Cola. It is a so-called Coke high. It’s easy to drink, making it a perfect product for young people making their drinking debut.”

The RTD industry is a battle of the top brands, with new products appearing one after another. Suntory, the leader of the RTD industry, cannot afford to sit on its laurels.

Sapporo, which has converted part of its beer factory into a production line for RTDs, is expected to be followed by other companies.
Plain chu-hai drinks, such as tanchu, are in vogue, and the appeal of these drinks is that they can be customized to one’s own tastes.

From the October 27, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

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