TOKYO >> Japan’s social media has been abuzz recently over Asahi Breweries’ new canned offering that features a removable top, allowing them to be chugged down like an ice-cold mug of draft beer, known as nama in Japanese.
Beer makers suffering from a plunge in consumption at restaurants and bars during the pandemic are zeroing in on canned beer, backed by tax cuts for regular beer and a surge in household alcohol consumption. The situation is giving an edge to such products as Asahi’s new Super Drye.
The beer sold out within days of being released in convenience stores and then in supermarkets. Fans will have to wait until mid-June for more, said Asahi.
“We want to enhance the home drinking experience by offering customers a product that reminds them of the joy of drinking a freshly poured nama beer with a creamy head,” said Kristin Chiu, spokesperson for Asahi Group Holdings. While the release of the product couldn’t have been better timed, it was actually four years in the making, she said.
The can’s design features an interior coating with fine protrusions that generate delicate bubbles and a smoother head, as well as a top that can be torn off entirely to emulate a pint glass.
“We want to enhance the appeal of beer since the market has been shrinking for years,” Chiu said.
Shipments of beer by the nation’s four top beer makers has fallen for 16 straight years. The trend has been attributed to a graying, shrinking population and changing tastes.
Asahi’s overall beer sales plunged 16% last year as sales of its flagship Super Dry plummeted at restaurants during two states of emergency. Suntory Holdings Ltd.’s sales fell 11%, while Kirin Holdings Co., which offers a broader lineup of brews, including craft beers, saw a drop of 5%.
On April 13, Suntory released the Perfect Suntory Beer, with 5.5% alcohol-by-volume and no sugar content. Production involved a complicated brewing process that took five years to perfect.
“These healthier drinks used to be supplementary to the standard products, but we believe they will become mainstream,” said Arisa Ina-gaki, Suntory brand manager. Sales so far have been robust.
In recent years, beer producers have been releasing happoshu, inexpensive low-malt beer, and “third-segment quasi-beers,” made from malt alternatives that are even less expensive.
Meanwhile Kirin, one of the oldest beer brands in the country and known for its lager, launched the malt-heavy Spring Valley Hojun 496 in March.
In recent years, Kirin has been aggressively expanding into craft beer. It bought a 25% stake in Brooklyn Brewery in 2016 and acquired London- based Fourpure Brewing in 2018. Last year, it completed the acquisition of Colorado- based New Belgium Brewing. It also has its own craft beer line called Grand Kirin.
Sales of Kirin’s canned craft beer products grew by 30% last year.
“While the market is still small, interest in craft beer is definitely growing and coincides with how the market for household consumption is expanding amid the pandemic,” said spokesperson Kuniaki Tamai.
“We want this product to help expand the appeal of craft beer.”