After a short-lived boom in the 1990s, craft beer is catching on once again among thirsty Japanese consumers.
Retailer Aeon Co. started stocking up to 90 craft and imported beers at 250 stores nationwide in December last year, and sales have been strong. “More and more people have started enjoying their unique taste,” said an Aeon spokesman.
Convenience store chain Lawson Inc. last year released a limited run of products jointly developed with Yo-Ho Brewing Co., a leading craft brewer based in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, which is known for its Yona Yona Ale beer.
“The limited-run beer was more popular than expected and the company was able to reach new customers, including young people and women,” a Lawson spokesman said.
Over the past year, Lawson has doubled its craft beer portfolio to 11 brands, including domestic and imported products.
A variety of craft brands were created across the country after restrictions on breweries eased in 1994. The boom was short-lived, however, as many of the products were poor in quality.
Craft beers have started to regain attention in recent years as brewers using better technology began to lead the market.
This year, Yo-Ho Brewing will start to outsource part of its output to Kirin Brewery Co., a unit of Kirin Holdings Co., as production is unable to meet increasing demand.
Major brewers are also looking at craft beer as one of the few promising products amid a slump in the broader Japanese market for beer and beer-like brewed beverages.
Kirin Brewery plans to set up small breweries for craft beer in two locations, including one in Tokyo. Sales will start in full online and at special shops in the spring.
Sapporo Breweries Ltd., a unit of Sapporo Holdings Ltd., will establish a new company to begin craft beer production as early as this summer.
Asahi Breweries Ltd., a unit of Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., plans to sell its limited craft beer series four times a year, starting in February.