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Supermarket chain operator Aeon Co. said Monday it has codeveloped with brewer Suntory Liquors Ltd. a “third-category” beerlike drink and will begin selling it for ¥100 in late July.

Rival retailer Seven & I Holdings Co. said it will introduce at around the same time a similar private brand product with Suntory priced at ¥600 for a pack of six 350-ml cans.

Experts said the entry of both retail giants into the beer market may encourage brewers like Kirin Brewery Co., which have been cautious about price cuts, to reconsider their pricing strategy.

The products, with alcoholic content of 5 percent, took about a year to develop. Aeon’s will be called Topvalu Mugi No Kaori, while Seven & I’s will be named The Brew.

Aeon, the operator of Jusco, Saty and MaxValu supermarkets, plans to roll out the private brand with a price tag about 20 percent lower than similar drinks from major brewers on the back of consumer demand for cheaper products amid the recession.

Aeon, which will sell the product at around 3,700 stores nationwide, is aiming for annual sales of 30 million 350-ml cans. A 500-ml can will be priced at ¥145.

“We’re receiving many requests from customers for lower-priced beer,” Kunihiko Hisaki, Aeon’s chief merchandising officer, said.

He hinted the company may consider launching private brand products in beer and low-malt “happoshu” categories in the future.

Meanwhile, Seven & I, which operates Ito-Yokado and other supermarkets, said it will sell its new product at around 400 stores nationwide.

A single 350-ml can will cost about ¥123 at convenience stores operated by subsidiary Seven-Eleven Japan Co.

While Daiei Inc. has sold foreign imported beer under a private label, it will be the first time for a supermarket operator to team up with a leading domestic beer maker in the development of a private brand product, according to Aeon.

Sales of beerlike beverages in the new category, which often use soybeans, corn and peas as main ingredients, have increased in recent years due to their price appeal.

In May, shipments of third-category beer increased 13.6 percent from a year earlier, accounting for nearly 30 percent of total domestic beer shipments, according to the Brewery Association of Japan. Suntory had the second-largest share in the third-category sector in 2008, trailing only Kirin.

Both new third-category beers will be produced at Suntory’s factory and directly shipped to Aeon and Seven & I’s distribution centers. The companies were able to substantially lower costs through mass production and streamlining of distribution, officials said.

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