On Sept. 25, Asahi released Ste. Neige Rela, a new line of cute, pocket-size 320-ml PET bottle wines. While it may sound a bit unusual, the introduction of miniature bottles of wine in clear plastic is in line with a general shift in Japan’s wine market and could trigger a trend for wine to be sold in smaller containers in the future.
On its website, Asahi points out that the market for what they call “daily wine” is growing. This year between January and April, sales in this sector were up 112.4 percent, compared to the same period last year. Asahi’s market research revealed that there was room for the trend to speed up if customer perceptions about wine could be altered. Key obstacles they found were that many consumers in Japan still see wine as something for special occasions only, they found the selection process difficult and they were reluctant to drink a whole bottle.
Asahi released the original range of 750-ml PET bottle Ste. Neige wine in May 2011, marketing it as a casual, everyday wine. The product has sold better than expected, and between January and July this year the company reached its sales target for the year: 200,000 boxes (each box contains 12 bottles).
The idea of using PET bottles rather than glass bottles as containers for wine is not entirely new to the Japanese market. PET bottle wines were introduced in 2009 by Mercian, as a way to slash bottle prices to revive the flagging Beaujolais Nouveaux market. However, outside of the Beaujolais Nouveaux market, the idea of cheap PET bottle wine didn’t really take hold until recently. This summer, in particular, that resistance began to erode. In August, Kikkoman started using PET bottles for their French table wine Chapeau Bleu, and in the same month Mercian went nationwide with their PET bottle Bon Rouge range of wines.
One noticeable feature of both Mercian and Asahi’s ranges is that both of these domestically produced wines have a low alcohol content. Rela comes in at just 10 percent and Mercian at 11.5 percent (though the organic wine comes in at 12 percent). Non-alcoholic and low alcoholic beer and chu-hi has been trending in recent years in Japan, so it makes sense to reduce alcohol levels in wine from their typical 12-13 percent mark to appeal to the new breed of responsible drinkers, even if this will raise eyebrows with real wine aficionados.
Suntory has even gone so far as to release a wine that clocks in at just 7 percent. The company has been selling its sparkling rose Wine Can since March 2011. The can, which contains just 250 ml of wine, is another signal that smaller containers of wine may be successful in the future. Indeed, rather than release the product for a limited trial period, the company went straight ahead and added Wine Can to its line-up of regular products. Now that Asahi has got in on the act with their petit PET bottle wine, we think it’s likely other beverage companies will follow suit.