Asia Business Channel

Coca-Cola will launch Japanese alcohol drinks

For years, American high-school students mixed rum into bottles of Coca-Cola in order to hide their drink from their parents. But in an look to the future, Coca-Cola, the U.S. company identified with cola and other non-alcoholic beverages has announced that its Japan unit plans to launch its first ever alcoholic drink in Japan.

Jorge Garduno. President of Coca-Cola Japan said that while Coca-Cola dabbled in the wine business in the 1970s, the Japanese experiment is "unique" in the company's 125-year history. The new offering will be in Japan's growing "Chu-Hi" category of beverages.

Garduno said in a recent interview posted to the company's website that, "This is a canned drink that includes alcohol; traditionally, it is made with a distilled beverage called shochu and sparkling water, plus some flavoring," he said.

Chu-Hi drinks come in a range of flavors such as grape, strawberry, kiwi and white peach. Some manufacturers replace Japanese shochu with Russian vodka and are new flavors of “shochu” drinks are continuously being tested in Japan.

Chu-hi drinks normally contain 3% ~ 9% alcohol and are marketed by leading Japanese beverage companies such as Asahi, Kirin and Takara. The drinks are considered low-alcohol drinks and are especially popular with young consumers and women.

Coca-Cola Japan’s Garduno said of the experiment that, "We haven't experimented in the low alcohol category before, but it's an example of how we continue to explore opportunities outside our core areas." However Garduno said the launch of Chu-Hi drinks should not be seen as a harbinger of the company's intentions elsewhere but that "It makes sense to give this a try in our market."

Garduno also said, "I don't think people around the world should expect to see this kind of thing from Coca-Cola. While many markets are becoming more like Japan, I think the culture here is still very unique and special, so many products that are born here will stay here."

Still, the push into the low-alcohol category is part of a strategy by Coca-Cola to diversify beyond sodas at a time when consumers in the U.S. and other developed markets are backing off sweet drinks and diet colas out of health concerns. Coca-Cola has been building its portfolio of non-cola products to include Honest tea, Dasani bottled water, the flavored Vitamin Water and the Powerade sports drink.

Read 522