Healthy happoshu pours fat on true brew rivals
By Ryann Connell Staff Writer June 2, 2003
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Healthy booze is all the rage as the liquor market heats up for summer, according to Shukan Post (6/13).
Happoshu, a low-malt near beer that literally means "bubbly brew," has eclipsed sales of real brews for some years, primarily because of a tax loophole that allowed it to go on sale for about two-thirds of the cost.
Though the hole has recently been filled and prices are drawing closer to parity, happoshu remains a favorite among Japanese drinkers largely because it's trying to be seen as a healthier alternative to regular beer.
With the recent announcement that Asahi Breweries Ltd. is about to come out in July with its brand of healthy happoshu, all of Japan's top four breweries will finally be locked in a bitter battle to get hold of drinkers with a yen for looking after their bodies.
"We wanted to get a decent taste while still being healthy," a spin doctor from Asahi tells Shukan Post, referring to the company's soon-to-be-released Aqua Blue, which contains 50 percent less sugar than its current happoshu, as well as mineral-rich seaweed extract. "We extended our development period and carried out exhaustive tests to come up with a happoshu that will outdo all other happoshu."
Suntory Ltd. has always been first off the rank in the happoshu market, and Diet Nama, its fat-fighting version, that has been on the market since October 2001 at 50 percent fewer calories and 70 percent less sugar content than its earlier versions.
Since April last year, Kirin Brewery Co. has been selling its 70 percent reduced sugar Gokunama Green Label, which also boasts of having cut by 90 percent its levels of purines, the body's waste products that are a leading cause of the debilitating, arthritis-like disease gout.
Sapporo Breweries Ltd. entered the healthy happoshu market in March with a herd-based brew.
"Based on the results of the big four breweries from January to April, beer sales are down 13.5 percent, while happoshu is up by 12.8 percent, so happoshu is clearly holding up the beer market," Hideki Morioka, Mitsubishi Securities Senior Analyst and beer lover, tells Shukan Post. "Most noticeable about recent market trends, though, is that happoshu with a health kick is selling extraordinarily well. Although the tax hike seemed likely to put the brakes on sales, consumers have enjoyed the added value offered by new flavors or functions in the brew. Companies are going to have to continue to create new lines. With Asahi getting it the market, make no mistake, there'll be bitter battles for market share from now on."
Some companies have already started firing their first salvoes. Suntory plans to increase shipments of Diet Nama by 50 percent over last year to 10 million cases in the hope of cashing in on the happoshu's popularity with women.
Kirin, Japan's biggest brewer, is not far behind.
"Gokunama Green Label continues to sell well," a Kirin spielmeister tells Shukan Post. "We're going to ship 15.4 million cases this summer, 17.6 percent more than we did last year."