Major brewers promoting ‘healthy’ nonalcoholic beer

JIJI

Ahead of the summer peak demand season, Japanese brewers are extending the product lines of nonalcoholic beer-like beverages that they claim offer healthful benefits.

The popularity of such drinks is on the rise, although the beer market is shrinking amid the country’s falling birthrate.

Beer-makers aim to attract health-conscious consumers, stressing the supposed added value of their nonalcoholic beverages, such as blocking the absorption of fat.

Last week, Sapporo Breweries Ltd. launched Sapporo Plus, the first nonalcoholic beer-like beverage certified by the Consumer Affairs Agency as tokuho, a food for specified health uses.

The new beverage containing a dietary fiber called indigestible dextrin helps suppress the absorption of sugar in meals, according to the Sapporo Holdings Ltd. unit.

This month, rivals Kirin Brewery Co. and Asahi Breweries Ltd. are scheduled to launch similar beer-flavored, alcohol-free drinks.

Kirin’s Perfect Free and Asahi’s Style Balance both claim they reduce the absorption of sugar and fat.

Unlike Sapporo Plus, which has certification from the government, the two companies tout such health functions on their own responsibility under a new labeling system that was introduced in April for functional foods.

Suntory Beer Ltd., which sells All-Free, Japan’s most popular nonalcoholic beer, plans to launch a collagen-infused version of the product this month and an orange-flavored one next month, for younger consumers, especially female drinkers.

Consumers mostly drink nonalcoholic beer-like beverages as an alternative to beer if they cannot drink alcohol, but an increasing number of drinkers choose such products on any occasion.

Nonalcoholic beer-flavored drinks, which do not have the liquor tax attached, provide brewers with a higher profit margin.

Major brewers are thus in a heated battle for market share, with Suntory Holdings Ltd. and Asahi Breweries fighting a legal dispute over a patent production methods for nonalcoholic beer.