<p>Japan’s beer sales have been declining for decades, while alcohol free has performed well since Kirin entered the market in 2009. So is focusing on alcohol free beer the answer?</p><p>There have been several factors influencing the shrinking beer market in Japan. Younger drinkers prefer cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks to beer, while core beer consumers – baby boomers – are becoming more health-conscious as they age and cutting down alcohol consumption. According to <a href="https://www.globaldata.com/store/search/consumer/?query=&topic=wmi%3Asubject-code%3DSBjj&topic=wmi%3Asubject-code%3DXNyL&min_price=0&max_price=30000">GlobalData</a>’s 2016 Q4 global consumer survey, 78% of Japanese people in the 55-64 age group are either actively trying to consume less alcohol or already consuming it in moderation. </p><p>Additionally alcohol consumption related harassment has been become a social issue, and influences consumers’ drinking. So health-conscious consumers, as well as those who are concerned about alcohol related social problems, see the benefit of alcohol-free beer.</p><p>Technically 0.00% alcohol beer is a ‘beer flavoured soft drink’ in Japan due to legal restrictions on fermenting. It has become a focus category for beer manufacturers. In 2016, volume sales of ‘beer soft drinks’ were six times the 2008 value, recording a 5 year CAGR of 15.3%, according to GlobalData research, against an equivalent GDP growth which barely gets above 1%.</p><p>So, weather permitting, expect to see Japanese consumers quenching their thirst with beer flavoured soft drinks in a variety of places this summer; an increasing number of foodservice retailers serve them nowadays, and there are no drink driving restrictions. </p><p>Kirin was the pioneer among Japan’s major beer producers, launching its beer soft drink in 2009. Then Suntory and Asahi Breweries entered the market, more than doubling its size, and a leadership battle ensued.</p><p>Key brands include Suntory’s All-Free, and Asahi’s Zero-Dry, while Sapporo Brewery has also launched a functional beer soft drink.</p><p>Last month the market was buzzing with the launch of Kirin Zeroichi. According to Kirin, this product employs a unique technology used for its core beer product, Kirin Ichibanshibori. This produces the flavour of a genuine beer without the alcohol content.</p>Within 10 days of the launch, Kirin Zeroichi had sold a significant chunk of its annual target volume. Certainly, this is a big newcomer.