Beer drinkers squirrel away suds in anticipation of price hikes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A poster notifies customers of scheduled price hikes in October at a special beer sales section in a store in Higashinari Ward, Osaka.

Beer sales typically decrease after the long, hot summer has ended, but they are continuing to rise in September as impending price hikes have consumers bucking that trend as they squirrel away their favorite brews.

The prices of many foods and drinks are set to increase on Oct. 1, and the upcoming price hikes have many people stockpiling beer as suds have a long shelf life.

Supermarkets and discount stores are enticing customers by means such as setting up special sales corners for those wanting to stock up on beer before it gets more expensive.

Mega Don Quijote Fukaebashi-ten, a discount store in Higashinari Ward, Osaka, opened a section exclusively for beer and beer-like beverages near the cash registers on the first floor in early September.

The discount store encourages customers to buy more beer products by displaying posters with the message “Shipping prices [of beer] will rise in October” and a graphic showing the price hike ranges of each beer maker.

Store officials said many customers are buying three to five cases of beer, each of which contains 24 cans.

“I usually buy one case at a time, but I decided to stockpile as I heard the prices are going to rise,” said a homemaker who bought three cases.

The store normally reduces its stock of beers in September compared to August. However, it nearly doubled beer stocks this year on expectations that demand would be brisk.

“Since late August, sales have been steadily rising and many customers purchase [beer] after making advance orders,” said Hiromi Ito, the store’s deputy manager. “On weekends, cases [of beer] have sold out very quickly.”

Major supermarket chains have taken similar actions to boost beer sales.

Life Corp. has placed posters in the alcoholic beverage section of its stores encouraging customers to buy beer before the price increases go into effect.

Ito-Yokado Co. also opened a special beer section near the cash registers at its stores.

Beer sales are said to be brisk at both companies.

The unseasonal rise in demand for beer is happening because the prices of a wide range of foods and drinks will increase starting in October.

According to Teikoku Databank Ltd., 105 major beverage makers in Japan are scheduled to raise the prices of their 6,532 products in October. Four major breweries will also hike prices. Retail prices will likely increase 4% to 13%.

For example, the retail price of a 350-milliliter can of Asahi Breweries Ltd.’s Super Dry beer is expected to cost between ¥210 and ¥220, if the current price including tax is ¥200.

With consumers seeking to protect their pocketbooks, beer has been a popular item because “periods until best-before dates of beer products are long, so they are suitable for stockpiling,” said an official at a major supermarket.

Breweries anticipated such a situation and have increased production.

“We’ve forecast that sales of beer products in September will be 30% higher than a year ago,” a Suntory Spirits Ltd. official said.

However, as has happened when the consumption tax has been raised in the past, sales often sharply increase ahead of the hike and then fall precipitously.

“A drop in sales after the price hikes will be unavoidable this time, too,” said a company official in the industry.