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OSAKA — While four major domestic brewers are engaged in fierce competition to take the biggest share of the virtually zero-growth domestic beer market, the maker of Carlsberg is trying to find its own “suitable and profitable niche.”

Michael Iuul, the Danish brewer’s chief executive officer, said the firm will focus on increasing the visibility and penetration of its brand as a premium beer among Japanese consumers, especially among trend-setting young people. Japan is a “very mature, very developed” market with a yearly growth of less than 1 percent, making it difficult for Carlsberg to increase its share in it, Iuul said, adding that there is more potential in other parts of Asia, such as China and Thailand.

“(But) if we want to have a profile in Asia, we have to be in Japan as well,” he said during a recent visit to Osaka. Iuul pointed out that very few foreign products, especially consumer goods, have been successful in the Japanese market because of the high quality of Japanese products and the trust and loyalty that Japanese consumers give them.

“Japanese beers enjoy a very high profile in Japan,” he said. “So if we want to have a position here, we have to have special products which address, maybe, fashionable clientele.”

Iuul said Carlsberg will not take the policy of reducing prices to increase sales volume, as some foreign firms have tried, so as to not degrade the brand’s image. An increased flow in low-priced foreign brands, made possible by changes to the complex distribution system in Japan, created a boom in foreign beers a few years ago. It was not enough, however, to challenge the hold of domestic brewers.

Even Budweiser, the world’s best-selling brand and the top foreign beer in Japan, currently has a share of only slightly more than 1 percent of the Japanese market. While many foreign brands have recently suffered declining shares in Japan, Carlsberg managed to increase its sales volume in 1996 by 19 percent from the previous year to an equivalent of 550,000 cases of 20 663-milliliter bottles. Iuul said the firm hopes to post double-digit sales increases this year and in 1998 as well.

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