The drinks giant will experiment with a canned beverage called Chu-Hi, made up of distilled Japanese drink shochu, sparkling water and flavoring.
“This is unique in our history. Coca-Cola has always focused entirely on non-alcoholic beverages, and this is a modest experiment for a specific slice of our market,” said Jorge Garduno, president of Coca-Cola’s Japan business unit, in a post on the company’s website.
Japan is a fiercely competitive market, Garduno added, with Coca-Cola launching 100 products a year in the country. “Experimentation is almost like a day-to-day ritual here. You can’t fall behind the rapid product cycle in Japan,” he said.
The company’s sodas only made up about 25 percent of product sales by volume in Japan in 2016, while tea made up 27 percent of Japan’s overall beverage consumption in the same year.
Coca-Cola also owns Georgia Coffee in Japan, which it claims is the world’s highest-grossing canned coffee drink, making more than $1 billion in annual sales. The country has a Food for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU) government certification, in light of its ageing population and fiber-fortified drink Coca-Cola Plus was FOSHU-approved in 2017.
Having certain drinks at particular times of day is more of an entrenched ritual in Japan than in other part of the world, said Khalil Younes, EVP of marketing and new businesses for Coca-Cola Japan, in a blog post. People might drink green tea with sushi, but opt for oolong tea with fattier Chinese food, for example.
Because of the nature of the Japanese drinks market, it’s unlikely Chu-Hi drinks will launch in other countries, Garduno said. “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.”