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While Japanese diners typically go to izakayas to do their drinking outside of the home, a new tradition known as choinomi, or “quick drink”, is helping to shake up local habits. Consumers who are looking to spend a little less, and often drink a little less, are heading to fast food restaurants that have begun offering choinomi specials as a way to draw in higher traffic in the evenings. These promotions typically include a drink and small snack, and are targeted at professionals looking for a low-key way to wind down after a long day.
While foodservice growth in Japan has been sluggish for year, fast food is one of the only categories that has shown consistent increases in value, including a 5% increase in 2014. However, new economic changes have meant that more recently, even fast food has started to suffer. In 2014 a new higher VAT and “abenomics” policies that have benefitted primarily the affluent have started a polarisation in the Japanese market. Those wealthier consumers at the higher end who can still afford to spend are very conscious of how much value they are getting for their purchases, and those at the lower end are becoming similarly discriminating on when they can spend on foodservice, and for what value in return. This has meant that many wealthier consumers who might previously have spent at fast food outlets are trading up to more premium options in order to justify the expense, while others, more price-sensitive are trading down and out of chained fast food, opting to patronize less expensive independents instead.
Bars/pubs on the other hand, have been one of the worst performing categories in the market for years, with a 4.4% value decline in 2014 and an average annual decline of nearly 4% since 2009. This sharp decline has been caused in large part by declining alcohol consumption among Japanese consumers, particularly young people who are rejecting the traditional culture of drinking heavily for hours at izakayas.
Amidst this, the choinomi trend began emerging in 2013, offering consumers a way to have a small amount of alcohol for low cost while socializing over food and drinks with friends. While this began as a general behavioural trend, driven by changing habits, chained operators were quick to catch on and turn the new tradition into a business strategy.
Second-ranked Asian fast food chain Yoshinoya was one of the first major chains to offer a “Yoshinomi” promotion, giving customers the option or ordering a drink alongside their inexpensive gyudon beef bowls in an effort to bring more customers in during the evening dayparts. The promotion was particularly popular among the chain’s older consumer base, many of whom would began stopping in for an inexpensive dinner and drink on their way home from work.
Since Yoshinoya’s success, the trend has accelerated rapidly, spreading to many of the other major fast food brands in Japan—both in Asian fast food and other categories. Sukiya, KFC, Burger King, Lotteria, and Freshness Burger have all begun offering choinomi, with many now looking for ways to set their offerings apart from the rest. For example in 2015, burger fast food chain Freshness Burger began offering a value-priced all-you-can-drink wine menu, a nod to izakaya culture in a more modern package.
While in the short term this trend mean plenty of opportunity for evening daypart growth in the fast food category, it also points to longer term changes in Japan’s local drinking culture. As in most other markets, traditional drinking habits are rapidly giving way to more modern, sophisticated, and internationally-minded practices, paying less heed to local cultural norms and instead borrowing habits from other markets around the world. This evolution has so far had the strongest implications in cafés and specialist coffee shops, it has in fact affected the full spectrum of beverage-based dining occasions. Global consumers as a whole are becoming more sophisticated, more value conscious, and more aware of how their peers are eating, drinking and living all over the world, and their habits are changing along with their horizons.