‘I'll have a beer in the meantime" is a phrase you're likely to hear in any Japanese bar.’ Although it doesn’t enjoy as much momentum as in the past due to a diversification of diet and increasingly diversified individual needs, beer continues to enjoy a strong presence in the lifestyles of Japanese people.
According to data from Kirin, a leading Japanese beer brewer, Japanese beer consumption in 2012 was 5.5 million kilolitres, or 43.8 litres per capita. As a reference, Australian beer consumption in 2012 was 1.8 million kilolitres, or 81.9 litres per capita (in the global top 10!).
However, when we break that down, only half of beer consumed in Japan is what we traditionally call ‘beer’. The rest is classified as ‘low-malt beer’ or ‘new genre’ beer. Low-malt beer was formed as a new market, resulting from a heating-up in the development race among beer manufacturers, set against the background of low price competition caused by the relaxation of liquor sales licensing in 1989. Furthermore, to maintain a low price range in response to an increase in the low-malt beer tax rate in 2003, ‘new genre’ beer (also called ‘the third beer’) appeared as an alcoholic beverage with a similar taste to beer and low-malt beer.
In 2014, a beer that attracted attention as a ‘purine bodies/ sugar content zero’ beer in a new genre called ‘Goku Zero’ (marketed by Sapporo Breweries) was recategorised as a low-malt beer, based on the findings of the National Tax Agency. Despite this, it has maintained good sales in the market. To keep pace with this, Kirin, Asahi and Suntory launched ‘purine bodies/ sugar content zero’ beers on September 2, kicking off a heated battle in the low-malt beer market.
The ‘purine bodies/ sugar content zero’ feature suits health-conscious consumers, and manufactures are also focusing on taste to make the products more attractive. While it may be true that ‘purine bodies/ sugar content zero’ is an excellent product brought about by Japanese innovation in technology, once the differentiation in features and taste wears thin, it’s possible that an endless price war may again ensue.
Incidentally, manufacturers are also expanding premium beer at a higher price range, and they are receiving strong support from consumers who purchase the beer as a gift, or for a special occasion.
Hiroki Watanabe / Managing Director of Yokoso Australia Pty. Ltd
Engaged in marketing, sales and corporate management in the field of consumer goods in the Japanese market for 20 years. Migrated to Australia in 2008 and established Yokoso Australia to develop the exchange of culture, education and business communication between Japan and Australia.