TOKYO: Coca-Cola has said it is planning to experiment with the company’s first alcoholic drink, in a move described as “unique” in its history, as Coke seeks to engage with Japan’s growing market for alcopops, “Chu-hi”.

The move emerged on the company’s own website, reported by the Financial Times, when it published an interview with the president of its Japanese business, Jorge Garduño.

Speaking about innovation this year, Garduño expanded on the experiment. “This is a canned drink that includes alcohol; traditionally, it is made with a distilled beverage called shochu and sparkling water, plus some flavouring. We haven’t experimented in the low alcohol category before, but it’s an example of how we continue to explore opportunities outside our core areas.”

Garduño described the experiment as “unique in our history”, one that will place the US brand into competition with brands such as Strong Zero, Highball Lemon, and Slat. According to the Japanese drinks company Suntory, the market for the low-alcohol blend has seen growth rates of between 5% and 25% year-on-year since 2013.

“The Chu-Hi category is found almost exclusively in Japan. Globally, it’s not uncommon for non-alcoholic beverages to be sold in the same system as alcoholic beverages. It makes sense to give this a try in our market.”

The plans highlight the strength of the Japanese alcopop market, and have emerged just months after an American Wells Fargo analyst speculated that the company might move into alcohol, the Financial Times wrote.

Such a concept illustrates some of the quirks of the Japanese market, as the company recognised its “unique and special nature.” It is, therefore, unlikely to expand to other markets.

According to the Japan Times, the drink – also transliterated as Chuhai, is said to have appeared shortly after World War II as alcohol, especially premium beverages such as whiskey, was scarce. For most drinkers, shochu was an inexpensive moonshine that could be distilled from sweet potatoes, wheat, sesame, chestnuts, or even milk. The canned modern version started to grow in popularity in the mid-noughties.

Sourced from Financial Times, Telegraph, Japan Times; additional content by WARC staff