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Japanese 'premium' product lines hit shelves

Publication Date : 14-08-2014


A trend is growing among Japanese food and beverage manufacturers to produce “premium brand goods” with select higher-quality ingredients or enhanced health-boosting effects.

Leading soft drink maker Kirin Beverage Co., for instance, will release new carbonated drinks and canned coffee - to be produced with select materials using a refined manufacturing process - under a new, unified premium brand.

Premium foods have mostly been sold by makers as spin-offs of their basic lines so far, but food and beverage makers are pushing their boundaries and exploring new frontiers.

Kirin Beverage plans to produce a new line of premium brand goods in a bid to meet polarised consumption patterns, in which strongly budget-conscious consumers are buying higher-quality goods even at higher costs against the backdrop of overall economic recovery.

The company used to follow the strategy of marketing its soft drinks under different brand names by their type. For instance, tea drinks in plastic bottles were sold under the “Gogo-no-Koucha” brand and its canned coffee under the label “Fire”.

But soft drinks under the new brand name will cost about 200 yen per bottle or can, roughly twice the price of its basic items. A senior official at Kirin Beverage said, “We want the new products to be established as brand items that are all about flavour rather than a mere extension of our basic product line, and they will be differentiated from other products.”

In the beer market where premium products have already been establishing themselves, four leading breweries have already released their premium beers as deluxe versions of regular items including “Malt’s” and “Super Dry”.

Though the domestic beer market has been shrinking since 1997, premium beers have captured the hearts of consumers and have grown to account for nearly 20 per cent of the market over the past 10 years, breathing new life into the business.

Premium product lines have also spread to baby food.

Meiji Co. will start selling “Mikaku no Hajimari” next month, a new baby food brand. Despite the 200 yen pretax price tag, which is 50 yen higher than conventional alternatives, the company has created a flavour thought to be more suited for the developing palates of babies and toddlers thanks to collaboration with Kyoto University and a venerable restaurant serving Kyoto dishes.

In a similar vein, Morinaga Milk Industry Co. released a high-priced dairy product called “Premil Karada Utsukushiku” in April, which contains bifidobacteria and dietary fiber. “It attracts young people who don’t consume as much milk,” said an official at Morinaga Milk’s public relations division.

In the food and beverage markets, leading distributors have increased their lines of private brand goods, leading to fierce price-cutting competitions. As a result, basic soft drinks in 500-milliliter plastic bottles are being sold for as low as around 100 yen.

A market analyst believes that because of “economic recovery, the demand for premium goods has grown among consumers, particularly those in good financial shape.”

At supermarkets, regular items have long been mainstay sellers - but premium brand goods will probably line more shelves in the months ahead.

US$1 = 102 yen


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