Whoa. I had to do a double take when I saw the latest offering from Japan's Kirin Brewery.
No, they're not giving away free brews (awwww). "Kirin Free" is a malty tasting beverage that's free of alcohol (the package shouts "0.00% alcohol").
What's the point?
A good question, since anybody who's spent even a single night out in Tokyo knows that the Japanese like their beer—and the buzz it provides.
But it turns out that Kirin is positioning FREE as "beer" for people who want to drink and then be able to drive, and for sports enthusiasts who like to quench their thirst with a beer, but don't want to get hammered on the golf course or tennis court.
I don't know if FREE is going to emerge as a big seller for Kirin in the long run (I doubt it), but at the very least it's as good a gimmick as any to spur a short-term jump in sales since a lot of people are going to buy at least one can just to see what it tastes like.
Product size is often one of the first things international food brands have to adjust when entering the Japanese market. Not only is the average Japanese home too small to store western-sized jumbo packages, Japanese eating habits are typically different from their overseas counterparts.
But it's not just foreign firms that learn optimizing package size can lead to more sales.
A couple of months ago Japanese condiments giant Kewpie reduced the volume of its salad dressings from 200 to 170 milliliters--and was surprised to see a 5% increase in order volume versus the same period last year.
According to a Nikkei article, the company attributes the bounce to the fact that the package better suits current Japanese demographics. With household sizes shrinking, too many people were consistently throwing out bottles whose "best by" date arrived before the product could be entirely consumed. Plus, many more kinds dressings are available at supermarkets these days so consumers have a larger variety at home, resulting in extended usage cycles for each bottle.
However, Kewpie cut the price to reflect the 15% reduction in size, so it could be that stores are ordering more to satisfy consumer demand for cheaper products of all types--something Kewpie apparently adamantly denies.
Whaddya think? Did Japanese regional beer Takahashi come up with the idea for these brews as part of market expansion plans to America's red and blue states, as an ode to the choice given Neo of Matrix fame, or out of nostalgia toward Dr. Seuss?
Baskin Robbins Japan, which is known by Japanese consumers as "31" (in reference to the brand's offering of 31 flavors), is planning to open 101 new locations in Japan in 2009, bringing their shop total here to over 1,000. The company is even planning a new format that's twice as big as the average existing store, with the first of these slated for the new Ami Premium Outlet Mall that's opening in Ibaraki this summer.
Given the state of world and domestic economies, you might be forgiven for assuming that expansion news like this means that B.R.'s ice cream biz is screaming forward while the overall Japanese market screams in pain.
In reality the company may be, in a sense, running in place.
According to a Nikkei article I read last week, B.R.'s sales were up 5% in 2008, but a good deal of this had to do with price hikes and marginal contributions from last year's net increase of 40+ new locations. Actual footfall dropped by 8% at existing stores, and average customer spend went down by 9%.
In recent years B.R. has in part secured new locations in Japan relatively easily thanks to the appearance of so many new shopping centers. But due to revived restrictions on allowable square footage in new commercial facilities, shopping center construction has been falling off quickly.
As a result, Japanese consumers may find more Baskin Robbins' openings in locations abandonded by failed convenience stores and other businesses. And there will be no shortage of those this year.
While this poster from Meiji Seika might for a moment confuse some English speakers, the Japanese text beneath the headline makes the ad crystal clear to Japanese consumers: Xylish gum's juicy flavor now lasts longer.