In recent news by Suntory, Japan’s largest drinks companies have come together to combat the rising issue of air pollution in Asia. It seems it will be a common interest in protecting the environment, and not whisky, that will bring these major industry players to collaborate.
Japan’s most major beer makers, Suntory, Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, have introduced a joint distribution schedule which will see products delivered together via trucks and rail containers across Japan. The distribution will even reach China.
A fact known well in Japan’s drinks industry is that the major players don’t collaborate. During the course of Suntory and Nikka’s history, the birth of several distilleries under each company brand has meant these big players can create blended expressions within the company, removing the need to work with any other distilling companies.
While over in Scotland, distilleries and companies collaborate endlessly to bring new, exciting blends to the market; in Japan each company works alone, in secrecy, as competition is fierce. Suntory brought the Hakushu and Chita distilleries to life alongside Yamazaki, in order to deliver the world-renowned Hibiki range. Nikka brought Miyagikyo to stand next to the Yoichi site, expanding the company’s flavour portfolio and creating stellar blends like the Taketsuru range and Nikka From The Barrel.
Over the years, the largest companies have competed endlessly across all drinks categories. In whisky, Nikka and Suntory have constantly released similar expressions, just months apart. When one delved into single malt production, the other followed closely. Most recently, in 2017, the Nikka Coffey gin was closely followed by Suntory’s Roku gin. Both were the first Japanese craft gin expressions for each company.
In terms of beer, the peak of competition came in 1987 when Asahi launched their Super Dry expression. This eventually led Asahi to become the leading beer company in Japan, though Kirin, Suntory, and Sapporo launched their own versions of “Dry” beer shortly after Asahi. This period came to be known as the “Dry Wars”, when Asahi dethroned Kirin. Beer in Japan is still huge today, with the country ranked 7th in the world in terms of beer consumption. According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. held 35.5% of the market share, followed by Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd. at 30.3%, Suntory Holdings Ltd. at 15.3%, and Sapporo Holdings Ltd. at 10.2% in 2014.’
Looking at the history of drinks in Japan, one can quickly understand the significance of the joint distribution venture against air pollution. CO2 emissions by all four companies are expected to drop greatly and aid the global mission of reducing harmful gases.
While the companies won’t be joining forces to create new whisky or drinks anytime soon, this collaboration is definitely a step in the right direction.