From mid-February, the recipe and branding of Japan’s Asahi Super Dry is changing as the brand aims to remain relevant to drinkers’ changing tastes.
It is the first time that the recipe has been changed since the beer was launched in 1987. Since then, Super Dry has grown to account for a suggested 90 per cent of Asahi beer sales, and 40 per cent of the beer market in the country.
A media release from Asahi in Japan said that as the Japanese domestic market matured, it has become difficult to differentiate products.
The new recipe improves drinkability and aroma, according to Asahi, and it will be adding a new hop aroma by late stage hopping, whilst its rebrand will focus on the silver packaging and its dry characteristics.
It is not the first tweak to techniques used in the brewing of Super Dry, with Asahi improving yeast management and brewing technologies in the past decade, but it is certainly the biggest change in its recipe since its launch more than 30 years ago.
Some have suggested the recipe change was prompted by the decline in sales at Asahi and changing consumer trends which have been accelerated by the global pandemic. Restrictions, including a temporary halt on the sale of alcohol in venues, impacted Japan’s hospitality industry and in turn its breweries.
While it is a big change, the recipe is only set to be rolled out in Japan for now.
“We will evaluate whether we implement [it] in Australia at a later stage,” an Asahi spokesperson told Brews News.
“All ASD brewed and sold in Australia will be brewed to the original recipe under the supervision of Japanese Master Brewers. Right around the world ASD will retain the great crispness that it’s famous for.”
Asahi has invested in raising the profile of its flagship beer in recent years, investing in multimillion dollar advertising campaigns in Australia and signing on to become the Rugby World Cup Official Beer in France in 2023.
Super Dry was also ranked last year as the best-selling beer at the “world’s best bars” according to a Drinks International report.
Asahi’s move to change the beer comes as brewers continue to chase changing palates, as mainstream beer drinkers show a preference for less bitters beers and the beer category faces increased competition from sweeter-tasting beverages including seltzer and pre-mixed spirits.
Beer trends in Japan and Australia
Data concerning beer consumption and the alcohol market has been scarce since early 2020, as the world focused on more pressing events, but highlights the difficulties facing brewers in a changing consumer landscape.
It has been suggested that historic trends have continued, with alcohol consumption in general, and beer consumption in particular, declining in many industrialised countries, putting pressure on alcohol producers to identify the direction of consumer tastes and demands.
A focus on spirits and RTDs globally, as well as more premium beverages over volume consumption has been a key feature of alcohol trends – although there were suggestions that larger packs and cheaper beer had their moment during the early stages of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Australia and Japan have many similarities as industralised countries known for their drinking cultures. However, a 2018 World Health Organisation Report suggested that high-income countries of the Western Pacific Region, such as Australia and Japan, may decrease their per capita consumption in the coming years.
This is a contrast to other countries in the region such as China, India and Vietnam, which are expected to increase consumption.
In Australia, beer consumption has been decreasing incrementally. According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which cover the 2017-18 financial year, an estimated 191.2 million litres of pure alcohol was available for consumption from alcoholic beverages, up from 187.6 million the year before, which included a 2.5 per cent increase in beer.
However over the preceding five years, beer consumption declined 0.7 per cent.
Analysis from other sources has corroborated this plateau or slight decline.
A report commissioned by AB InBev in 2019 found that beer volumes had largely remained flat between 2013 and 2018. It did however highlight the growth in “premium” and “super premium” categories which may account for Australia becoming one of the most profitable beer markets in the world.
Despite this, there are some marked differences in the Japanese and Australian markets. According to the WHO report, beer accounted for 18 per cent of Japanese consumption in its most recent figures, compared to 40 per cent of the recorded alcohol consumption in Australia.
Japan also has lower alcohol per capita consumption, at an estimated 8 litres of pure alcohol, compared to Australia’s 10.6 litres per capita.
Breweries are clearly concerned about overall beer share declines in both countries and the move by Asahi to change its recipe may be the latest in big brewers’ attempts to capture the attention of consumers.