Can Japanese beer become “Asia’s” beer?

Asia is divided into East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia.  Recently, the word “Asia” often appears in the Japanese media, but it generally refers to East and Southeast Asia.  The companies hoping for business success in this “Asia” are Japan’s beer manufacturers.  In a report announced last year by the Kirin Institute of Food and Lifestyle, Asia has overtaken Europe as the world’s number one beer consumption market, which is likely due in large part to the huge presence and influence of the number one beer consumer in the world, China.  Beer consumption is also steadily increasing in other Asian countries and European and American companies are taking notice.  The head of Suntory recently appeared on Japan’s NHK television and spoke about the company’s plans to sell premium beer in Asia.  Suntory’s competitor, Asahi Beer, is strengthening its partnership with Denmark’s Carlsberg in order to grow its Super Dry brand into Asia’s number one premium beer.

Although sales of Japanese beer and beer brands outside of Japan are relatively small, these brands are a popular subject for European and American bloggers and there are numerous reports by research companies.  Europeans give Kirin high marks and Americans Asahi.  Naturally, they like beers with a flavor similar to their own country’s beer.  Many European and Americans in Japan like Yebisu beer and recently there are some who like Suntory’s The Premium Malt, which they say has a smooth taste.  Even in Asia, people have a good image of Japanese beer, particularly Asahi Beer’s Super Dry.  Because Asians tend to eat out often, they often order beer at restaurants and are apparently disappointed when Super Dry is unavailable.  Asahi Beer’s push to increase sales in Asia is clearly good news for these customers.

However, becoming Asia’s number one premium beer may be a difficult road.  In order to become a brand that customers select simply because they “like it” will require time and competition with known European and American beer brands that have developed sales in Asia, as well as the growing number of local brands.  *Because there are partnerships and tie-ups, calling it “competition” may be incorrect.

What is the key to Japanese beer becoming Asia’s beer?  It might be obtained from the experiences learned from Japan’s current situation.   In Japan, the number of people consuming beer is decreasing and low-malt beers and beer-like alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular.   Although price is an issue, people are also selecting these drinks because of their lower sugar, purine and alcohol content to prevent against diseases such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and gout.  The rapid growth in Asian countries means that diets are also drastically changing.  According to reports from the 5th Asia-Oceania Conference on Obesity, the number of diabetes patients is increasing at a staggering rate.  Even within Asia there are different ethnic groups, which means that the occurrence of disease from obesity apparently differs. Estimates from the International Diabetes Federation in 2007 showed that India had the world’s greatest number of diabetes patients at 41 million, followed by China at 40 million.  This may not seem like a huge number given China’s total population, however it is accelerating not only in China, but in other Asian nations as well.  One possible reason could be that many diets in these areas now include oily, high fat and high-calorie cooking and fast food.

In the rapidly growing Asia, there are apparently fewer people who are conscious of their daily health.  However, in the near future, this is likely to change as more people start to place health as a priority.  If we think about what growth in Asia really means, Japanese companies will need to take the responsibility of looking at Asia and its future before they begin marketing.

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