When is a beer with lunch not a beer with lunch?

August 3rd, 2012 by Felicity Hughes

Since Kirin launched Kirin Free back in April 2009, non-alcoholic beer has been a huge success in Japan. Now the other three major breweries, Asahi, Suntory and Sapporo, have all launched similar products. Suntory’s All Free is the most popular and sales were up 23 percent in the first half of this year for the same period the year before.

To encourage further growth it seems that Suntory is now promoting the idea of All Free as a lunch-time drink during the work week. Last month they opened up the All Free Garden in Tokyo Midtown Roppongi for a limited 12-day run. Open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., office workers could pop by for a meal accompanied by a cool glass of All Free.

But not everyone thinks it’s acceptable to drink beer during lunch time. According to a survey by M1.F1 Research Survey, 32.7 percent of male respondents between the ages 20 and 34 thought that their colleagues would be annoyed with them if they saw them drinking non-alcoholic beer during their lunch breaks. In comparison, 48.4 percent said they felt their colleagues would be annoyed with them for drinking a normal beer during lunch.

Of 618 respondents of both sexes, 35.9 percent said that if they saw their colleagues drinking non-alcohol beer they wouldn’t be that bothered, and 14.4 percent were tolerant of their colleagues drinking real beer. While these figures are encouraging, it seems that beer manufacturers have a way to go to convince the public that it’s OK to drink non-alcoholic beer at lunch.

Even if beer companies are keen to win the public over and make lunchtime non-alcohol beer acceptable, they themselves are drawing the line at targeting minors, despite the fact that according to the letter of the law, it’s OK for minors to consume anything under 1 percent alcohol.

In an article in Tokyo Shimbun, a PR representative for Kirin made it clear that Kirin Free was not intended to be drunk by children and stressed that the product was developed to help eradicate drunken driving and is aimed at those who are 20 years and over. It seems that Suntory, Asahi and Sapporo are of the same opinion. They encourage stores to display non-alcoholic beer alongside alcoholic beverages and restaurants to list it on their alcoholic drinks menus.

Convenience stores are backing them up: Seven Eleven and Lawson do ID checks before selling the stuff. Family Mart doesn’t check IDs but can refuse to sell it to kids who are obviously under age. A number of schools have explicitly banned the drinks.

The upshot seems to be that while it may soon become acceptable to sip fake beer during the office lunch break, minors will not be openly chugging down non-alcoholic beers.

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