Drink Japan 2019 Recap

Drink Japan is the largest tradeshow in Japan specialising in the drinks industry. Material, machinery and packaging companies showcase the latest technologies.

In the keynote speech at the fourth Drink Japan held during 27-29th November 2019, the current soft drinks market of Japan was explained as being in a re-growth period. Consumer demand has become more fragmented, with the ageing and declining populations, economic stagnation and climate change. At the event, we identified three key points: plastic reduction, functionality, and IT utilisation.

Plastic reduction: The biggest trend

The importance of resource circulation was highlighted in the keynote speech and at the exhibition area a “plastic resources circulation zone” was set up for the first time. Paper packaging, bioplastic and recycling companies exhibited their solutions.

Kyoei Industry, for example, exhibited bottle-to-bottle recycling methods. The highly purified resin from its recycling technology can be turned into new PET bottles. In Japan, the recycling ratio of PET bottle was 84.8% in 2018[1], which is high compared to other countries. However, the use of recycled PET resin for new PET bottles is minimal. The enhancement of bottle-to-bottle recycling is one of the targets set by Japan Soft Drinks Association, which aims at 100% effective use of PET bottles by 2030. The industry’s commitment to this issue is based on the government’s initiative to promote a recycling-oriented society.

Functionality: Non-stop trend

Manufacturers exhibited ingredients with health claims suggesting they be used in beverages. Nippon Flour Mills, for example, exhibited a drink with rice-based ceramide and flaxseed extract, which claims to have skin moisturising functionality and support female hormones.  Other health boosting ingredients like ginger extract, sesame products, kome-koji (malted rice) were also present at the exhibition.

In Japan, drink products with specific health claims can be labelled as FOSHU (Food for Specific Health Uses) or FFC (Food with Functional Claims) through certain criteria. Upon the success of Healthya launched in 2003, labelled as the first FOSHU drink claiming to support reducing body fat, numerous health-claiming drinks have been launched such as lowering blood pressure, reducing visceral fat, improving sleep quality, etc.

Functionality is a straightforward selling point to differentiate products in this saturated market. Busy lifestyles and the aging population are the two main drivers, as busy consumers choose functional drinks as a convenient option to maintain their health and consumers in general become more health conscious as they age.

 IT Utilisation: Expected to improve efficiency

The shortage of labour force and climate change urge the industry to enhance IT utilisation. In the keynote speech, some examples were introduced.

The first was the utilisation of IT in vending machines. In Japan, vending machines account for 17.6% of soft drinks distribution, which is by far the largest in the world. By utilising IT, sales data of each machine can be obtained, which enables efficient replenishment work and minimises the risk of machines being out of stock.

Another example was the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to production planning. Suntory started to utilise AI for its production planning in 2019. When manually done, it takes 40 hours per week by experienced experts, but it can be done in an hour by AI.

With the falling number of throats, it is inevitable that the industry will need to adapt to social changes and respond to fragmented consumer demand. Drink Japan highlighted both the challenges and the possibilities that the soft drinks industry is facing.

[1] The council for PET bottle recycling