The unique appearance and taste of Yogurina was in demand amongst Japanese consumers. Image courtesy of KieferPix

Despite a decline in volume in 2012, Japan's packaged water market saw a five-year CAGR between 2010 and 2015 of 5.75%. However, according to Canadean, the growth of packaged water is expected to slow over the next five years. This means that brands are going to have to create ever more innovative products to maintain sales.

One success example of innovation in the mineral water market is the release of Suntory Minami Alps Tennensui & Yogurina. On the surface, the beverage looks like a standard clear mineral water, but hidden within the liquid is a distinctive yoghurt flavour. The surprising sensory experience spread across social media and within the first 11 months of release Yogurina's sales exceeded 10 million cases, which Suntory claims is the fastest pace ever for the flavoured water market in Japan in this period.

In the latest report from Canadean, ‘Success Case Study: Suntory Minami Alps Tennensui & Yogurina’, we take a look at the company’s category-bending enhancement of the mineral water brand experience in Japan.

Surprising flavours create unique selling points

"Within the first 11 months of release Yogurina’s sales exceeded ten million cases."

Interesting features and unique selling points play an important role in successful product innovation, particularly when consumers are connected to a wide range of social media platforms. When Yogurina was initially launched in April last year, Suntory had not anticipated how influential social media would be over consumer demand for the new product. A mere three days after it was launched, distribution of Yogurina had to be suspended because the production plant could not meet the demand. Following the unexpected disruption, Suntory was forced to reorganise its production line to prioritise the drink, and supply quickly resumed.

Yogurina is the third flavoured item to be launched by respected Japanese mineral water brand Suntory Minami Alps Tennensui, which has previously experienced success with its sparkling lemon and orange-flavoured varieties.

According to Kayoko Tsuji from Suntory Beverage and Food's brand strategy team, the company set out to create a flavour that had not been seen in the mineral water category before and to develop a taste that was familiar to consumers, but different from the myriad of fruit flavours seen across the mineral water category. More than 100 samplings were carried out before the flavour was finalised; the result was a distinctive yoghurt flavour derived from whey fermented with lactic acid, which is combined with mint extract and honey to enhance the main flavour.

Its unusual appearance and flavour combination makes Yogurina stand out among both plain mineral water products and existing yoghurt-flavoured soft drinks. In comparison to other yoghurt-flavoured drinks such as Calpis Water, Yogurina is much lighter and more refreshing in flavour and colour than its counterparts. Although Calpis Water includes ‘water’ in its product name, it is white in colour and has higher calorie content.

The successful application of Yogurina's flavour profile illustrates the opportunity for the development of unique flavour combinations beyond fruit in the bottled water category. For example, dessert flavours have potential, if dessert-flavoured water can keep calories low to be a healthy substitute for a real dessert.

Brand loyalty driven by experiential offerings and consistent taste and quality

"Approximately 57% of consumers buy yoghurt at least once a week."

While Yogurina's originality forms a significant part of its success, Canadean reports that it is the beverage’s pleasant taste that has attracted repeat purchases by satisfied customers. Yoghurt is a popular food that is purchased frequently. According to Canadean, approximately 57% of consumers buy yoghurt at least once a week, making it an easy flavour to encourage consumers to include in their daily diet.

Yogurina has established itself as a unique offering with a more thirst-quenching image than existing yoghurt-flavoured drinks. Because Yogurina is a water, it tastes lighter and has fewer calories than traditional juice drinks. Additionally, combining yoghurt with water texture can appeal to consumers who find real yoghurt heavy as part of their breakfast. The drink has a positive product image that appeals to consumers due to the health benefits associated with yoghurt. By producing a water that contains lactic acid bacteria and has a yoghurt flavour, Suntory creates a healthy impression of the overall product. Although the company does not claim any product health benefits, a positive image of yoghurt made with lactic acid bacteria raises Yogurina’s appeal.

Although yoghurt-flavoured soft drinks are not a novel development in Japan, a yoghurt flavour released under a well-known mineral water brand is new. This not only appeals to consumers who are experimental, but also entices mineral water drinkers who are not strictly brand-loyal. Moreover, as consumers nowadays want to express or share their new experiences, creating a surprising element – such as clear water with a distinctive yoghurt flavour – is highly important in new product launches. Using social media, many consumers shared, liked and promoted the drink’s unique appearance and taste sensation – which was like "eating yoghurt with the texture of water" according to one commenter – helping to reaffirm the company’s public presence and drive sales.

The unique attributes of Yogurina certainly aroused consumers' curiosity and convinced them to try a new yoghurt-flavoured water. However, there are many consumers who are not inquisitive. Although Japan has more experimental consumers compared to the global average, many stick to more traditional, familiar flavours. Not everyone responds to a new innovation launch in the same way, so giving a product appeal on other fronts, such as flavour, is crucial. To appeal to these consumers, Canadean believes that a positive sampling experience is influential in promoting new flavours. In fact, 28% of consumers in Japan are motivated by sampling to try new flavours, the second-highest motivation after curiosity.

Read the full report: ‘Success Case Study: Suntory Minami Alps Tennensui & Yogurina’