Global beverages giant Coca Cola is set to take a big step. It is about to ditch the 'soft drink' tag. Coke will soon come out with its first ever alcoholic beverage in Japan, in a category called Chu-Hi. The company's first ever departure from its non-alcoholic identity is a result of its goal of staying relevant in the Japanese market, which has seen an explosion in the popularity of flavoured low-alcohol drinks.
East Asia in general has been the home of popular low-alcohol drinks. Japan is mad over its soju and is shochu, while South Korea chugs soju. All these beverages typically have an alcohol content of 15-35 percent. That's lower than spirits like whisky and vodka and stronger than wine. The low alcohol content also helps restaurants in some places serve them without actually needing to get alcohol permits or licenses.
Now, no less a giant than Coca Cola is wading into alcohol. "We're also going to experiment with a product in a category known in Japan as Chu-Hi. This is a canned drink that includes alcohol," said Jorge Garduño, president of Coca-Cola's Japan business unit.
"This is unique in our history. Coca-Cola has always focused entirely on non-alcoholic beverages, and this is a modest experiment for a specific slice of our market. The Chu-Hi category is found almost exclusively in Japan," Garduño said.
Chu-Hi is a category of drinks that are usually made with shochu, which is typically distilled from rice, barley or sweet potatoes. Shochu is different from sake, which is a rice wine. It is extremely versatile and can be had neat, on the rocks, mixed with fruit juices, with hot water or even mixed with tea.
Shochu, soju and sake have also been gaining popularity across the globe thanks to their lower alcohol content. This is especially true in the US, where regulations in most places allow restaurants to serve drinks with alcohol content lower than 20 percent without any extra licensing or paperwork.
However, if you live anywhere other than Japan, forget your 'Coke tipple in a can'. "I don't think people around the world should expect to see this kind of thing from Coca-Cola," said Garduño.