Non-Sweet Chuhai Alcoholic Beverages Grow Popular Among Middle-Aged, Elderly

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Kirin Holdings Co.’s new canned chuhai, Shochu Soda, is seen being promoted in Tokyo on Sept. 22, part of a growing trend among major alcoholic beverage companies of focusing on non-sweet canned chuhai.

Major alcoholic beverage companies have strengthened their focus on sales of non-sweetened canned chuhai, a type of shochu-based beverage that is usually sweet.

The tax rate for dai-san-no-biiru quasi-beer was raised when the Liquor Tax Law was revised in October, while the rate for canned chuhai remained unchanged. With prices of canned chuhai generally lower than beer and quasi-beer, the companies expect demand for canned chuhai to grow as an alcoholic beverage that can be enjoyed with food.

In mid-October, Kirin Holdings Co. launched Shochu Soda in response to consumer requests for more products of alcohol mixed with soda. The company’s major sugar-free product, the Hyoketsu Muto series, has been well received, as sales of its new shikwasa Okinawan citrus flavor surpassed 10 million cans upon its launch in July, the fastest in the series.

Craft Spice Soda, released by Sapporo Breweries Ltd., contains seven different spices, such as lemon peel and coriander, instead of sugary fruit juice typically used for chuhai products. Sapporo has boosted its production capacity by renovating a factory in Sendai, which was previously used to produce beer until late last year, in order to shift focus onto the output of canned chuhai and other products.

Suntory Holdings Ltd. has been a market leader for highball products of whiskey mixed with soda. This spring, the company began selling Kodawari Sakaba no Takohai, which is made by mixing shochu with soda. The company aims to generate demand for drinking at home using such shochu products and recreate the boom of highballs with its Sui series of gin mixed with soda.

Alcohol companies have put more focus on products that can be consumed immediately after opening the can like chuhai. Until now, lemon sour and other easy-to-drink alcoholic beverages made with fruit juice were aimed at younger consumers who had just started drinking after reaching legal drinking age.

In recent years, an increasing number of young people are not consuming alcohol, and sugar-free chuhai products have become popular, especially among middle-aged and elderly consumers. There are also happoshu low-malt quasi-beer with reduced sugar content and products claiming to be free of purines, which can cause gout.

Asahi Breweries, Ltd. is considering the nationwide launch of the Ginon product line, which features gin that is distilled after lemon peels are soaked in it.

“Japan is one of the few countries in the world that have developed this beverage genre on its own,” Asahi Breweries President Kazuo Matsuyama said. “Instead of competing on price, we want to create a brand with a distinctive value.”