Japan / Europe: Asahi to shift focus to NABLABs

The nonalcoholic and low alcohol beer (NABLAB) market has enjoyed significant growth in the past years and is forecasted to keep growing. NABLAB has also proved surprisingly resilient during the coronavirus pandemic.

Therefore it comes to no surprise that Asahi’s new CEO Atsushi Katsuki wants to increase the company’s presence in the non-alcoholic beverages sector. In Europe, Asahi’s non-alcoholic brews, especially brands such as Birell and Peroni Libera, increased by 10% last year despite the fact that measures to contain the coronavirus hampered business in its main markets and lead to a volume decline of 6% for Asahi’s alcoholic beers.

“Non-alcohol is a good all-around product,” said Katsuki in an interview. “It helps to resolve social issues, it connects us with new users and it leads to our profitability.” For this reason, Asahi’s CEO intends to quadruple Asahi’s ratio of non-alcohol drink sales in Europe from 5.1% in 2020 to about 20% by 2030.

Earlier this year, Asahi launched a new carbonated 0.5% alcohol drink called Beery. Since the product has less than 1% ABV, the product is categorized as a carbonated drink and is not subject to liquor tax. The launch started in March in Tokyo and several other prefectures, followed by a nationwide roll-out in June.

Kristin Chiu, Asahi’s PR manager told the press that Beery is targeted to “sober curious adults” who do not drink much. “We can see consumers these days prefer drinking alcohol in a more variety and divers way. Therefore, Asahi Breweries would like to provide more choices to consumers with low-alcohol and slight-alcohol products,” Ms. Chiu said.

Other international brewing groups have already announced to follow a similar path.

Cees ‘t Hart, CEO of Danish brewing group Carlsberg said last October, that annual sales of non-alcoholic beers and beverages were increasing by 20-25% in most markets, and that he expected the category to grow five times faster than normal beer. (inside.beer, 18.10.2020)

Dutch rival Heineken is also increasingly betting on its non-alcoholic brew Heineken 0.0 which is already sold in 69 markets and grew double-digits last year with a particularly strong performance in Brazil, Mexico and the USA. (inside.beer, 28.10.2020)

Global beer market leader AB InBev was late to enter the non-alcoholic beer market. It was not before July 2020 that Anheuser Busch unveiled Budweiser Zero, its first zero alcohol brew under the Budweiser brand umbrella. (inside.beer, 29.7.2020)

Molson Coors is pursuing a slightly different strategy putting its focus not so much on NABLAB but on other beverages outside the beer category. In October 2019, MolsonCoors’ newly appointed President and CEO Gavin Hattersley laid out a sweeping corporate restructuring and revitalization plan and renamed the company from Molson Coors Brewing Co. to Molson Coors Beverage Co. effective Jan. 1 (inside.beer, 30.10.2019). “We will continue to compete and win on the foundation of our great beers, but the reality is our future will expand beyond that,” Hattersley said when he unveiled the company’s new corporate identity in February 2020. (inside.beer, 18.2.2020).

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