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Competition for beerlike beverages heated up Wednesday as Kirin Brewery Co. entered the market with a new beverage.

“We will seek the top” of the market, Kirin President Koichiro Aramaki told reporters Tuesday as he led a group handing out Nodogoshi Nama samples in front of JR Tokyo Station.

By Wednesday, Kirin had shipped about 1.74 million cases of 20 633-ml bottles each.

The so-called third-category drink does not use malt and wheat, which is in conventional beer, and subsequently is subject to lower alcohol taxes.

The government charges 24.20 yen for every 350 ml of this near-beer, compared with 77.70 yen for regular beer and 46.99 yen for “happoshu” low-malt beer.

Sapporo Breweries Ltd. and Suntory Ltd. are pioneers in the near-beer sector, in which sales have been rising sharply due to the low prices, and have captured an estimated 8 percent of the beer market.

In March, Sapporo shipped about 1.9 million cases, up 58 percent from a year earlier, and Suntory scored a 50 percent rise in shipments to 1.05 million cases.

Commenting on Kirin’s entry into the market, Sapporo President Masaru Fukunaga has said his firm, as creator of the new drink, “cannot surrender” its top position to its rivals.

To counter Nodogoshi Nama, Sapporo will launch Slims on May 22. The new beverage has 40 percent fewer calories than its Draft One.

Asahi Breweries Ltd. will also enter the competition when it releases its first near-beer on April 20. The company already has received orders for 2 million cases.

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