Sapporo Breweries looks to new brand in growing craft beer tide


Staff Writer

Riding a recent craft beer trend, Sapporo Breweries Ltd. said Wednesday it is launching a new brand to attract more beer drinkers who consume in moderation.

“The demand for beer has been decreasing each year, but we, as a beer-maker, hope to take advantage of this growing field to create a new beer culture,” Hiroshi Tokimatsu, director of Sapporo Breweries’ sales division, said ambitiously.

Sapporo Breweries has launched a new company called Japan Premium Brew Co. to market the new brand, called Craft Label.

In May, the new firm will release a pale ale-type beer with a fruity citrus flavor that will be priced at ¥288 per 350-milliliter offering.

Shipments of beer and beer-like drinks, such as low-malt products, have decreased for 10 years straight, but the market for craft beer is on the rise. Tokimatsu said craft beer doesn’t account for even 1 percent of Japan’s total beer shipments at present, but he expects it will represent between 1 and 2 percent by 2020.

Pilsner-type beer has been overwhelmingly popular in the Japanese market, but as the quality of craft beer turned out by small breweries has improved, such beverages are winning the hearts of more domestic consumers.

As craft beer typically refers to offerings made by small and traditional breweries through a unique manufacturing process, its image is far removed from that of dominant industry players like Sapporo Breweries. Thus, Tokimatsu explained that the new entity was launched so that the craft brand would not be linked too closely among consumers to Sapporo’s ubiquitous beer brand.

The craft brand also will be marketed in a different way compared to the brewer’s existing offerings. It will be promoted mainly through the Internet and social media rather than TV commercials, and at first, the product will be sold only at Sapporo Breweries’ restaurant bars and Internet shopping mall.

Tokimatsu also said that while craft beer may be popular among beer connoisseurs, Sapporo Breweries is targeting “average” drinkers to grow the market.

Other major Japanese brewers are putting more focus on the growing marked for craft beer. Kirin Brewery Co. increased its craft beer lineup last year. Asahi Breweries Ltd. started selling its craft beer in February, and Suntory will do so in May.