Alcohol-Free Beverages Carving Out Market Niche

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Sales of alcohol-free beverages that taste like beer and wine remain on an upward trajectory as an increasing number of people are abstaining from drinking alcohol for health reasons or forgoing purchases of alcoholic drinks amid weakening consumer sentiment in the wake of the March 11 earthquake-tsunami disaster.

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Sales of alcohol-free beverages that taste like beer and wine remain on an upward trajectory as an increasing number of people are abstaining from drinking alcohol for health reasons or forgoing purchases of alcoholic drinks amid weakening consumer sentiment in the wake of the March 11 earthquake-tsunami disaster.

Beverage makers have introduced a number of new products, while also seeking to expand into overseas markets.

Sales of beer-like drinks with no alcoholic content began taking off particularly in 2009, with their sales expected to total an equivalent of some 29 million cases in 2011, marking a nearly 12-fold jump from 2008, according to Suntory Liquors Ltd.

One case holds 24 250-milliliter bottles.

Suntory's new nonalcoholic product called Nonaru Kibun hit the market in October. Purchases have been so brisk that Suntory raised its sales target for the October to December period to 1 million cases, up 70 percent from the initial projection.

Asahi Breweries Ltd. has revised upward its sales target for its cocktail-like drink by 70 percent to 1.7 million cases for 2011.

Wine producer Mercian Corp. launched a new sparkling wine-like product last month. Also crowding into the new market segment are drinks that taste like plum wine and "shochu" distilled spirits.

Kirin Brewery Co. began selling its beer-like Kirin Free on a trial basis in the United States in October.

Since cars are an indispensable part of everyday life in the United States, there should be solid demand for Kirin Free particularly among drivers, a Kirin official said.

Sapporo Breweries Ltd. is seeing strong sales of its Premium Alcohol Free touted to be made with higher-quality ingredients.

As a wider variety of products have become available, Ito-Yokado Co., among Japan's major retailers, has set aside more shelf space for nonalcoholic drinks.

Sales of such beverages surged 40 percent between March and November compared with the same period last year, according to the company.

"It's difficult to drink alcohol in front of my young child," said a female shopper in her 30s at an Ario store operated by Ito-Yokado in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, adding that nonalcoholic drinks let her enjoy an intoxicating flavor even in the presence of her child.

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