Asahi Group Holdings President and CEO Akiyoshi Koji Photo: REUTERS/Ritsuko Ando
executive impact

Asahi CEO bets on better tasting alcohol-free beers

By Ritsuko Ando

Asahi Group Holdings’ Chief Executive Akiyoshi Koji is betting on alcohol-free beer to drive global profits in coming years, leveraging Japanese technology to improve the taste of the European brands it now owns.

The Japanese brewer has bought Italy’s Peroni and Czech market leader Pilsner Urquell, among others, in recent years, as a shrinking population and a growing preference for wine or cocktails weigh on domestic beer sales.

Koji said the company would sit tight on further major acquisitions for the time being, having agreed in July to buy AB InBev’s Australian business Carlton & United Breweries for $11 billion, a move that would make it the world’s third-biggest brewer.

Peroni, Poland’s Lech and Hungary’s Dreher are Asahi brands that have launched zero-alcohol beers, competing with European leaders such as Heineken and Carlsberg which are also tapping growing demand for healthier drinks.

Koji said sales of some of the group’s European alcohol-free brands had grown more than 30 percent, albeit from a low base.

“We want to make non-alcohol beers a revenue pillar,” he told Reuters in an interview. “Japanese technology is being used quite a bit among these non-alcohol beers, to make good products,” he said.

Asahi has been developing ways to improve the taste of its alcohol-free beers and sharing know-how was one of the benefits of its global M&A, in addition to slashing procurement and production costs, he said.

Koji declined to share detailed numbers or targets for the group’s non-alcoholic range. Market leader Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has said low or alcohol-free beer will likely make up around 20 percent of its volume by end-2025.

The planned purchase of Carlton & United Breweries is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020 and push Asahi’s net debt to above four times EBITDA.

Koji said Asahi would now focus on improving its finances for the next few years, including bringing the multiple down to around three times, before embarking on further deals.

“Until our balance sheet normalizes I don’t think we can make major investments,” he said. “Considering our current calculations... that would take until around 2022 to 2023.”

© Thomson Reuters 2019

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Loved Asahi on my visits to Japan, USA version is of course not the same. If they can make a non-alcohol beer that has taste, body and no bitterness, it will be in my fridge.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Zero alcohol beer is a waste of time - you never get the same flavour. They should concentrate on lower alcohol beer, say 1% to 2% ABV, to retain the taste but with very limited alcohol.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Zero alcohol beer is a waste of time - you never get the same flavour. They should concentrate on lower alcohol beer, say 1% to 2% ABV, to retain the taste but with very limited alcohol.

I suppose zero alcohol beer has its place for those who can’t consume any alcohol but want something like the taste. I’m fully with you on low alcohol beer. I used to drink some really good stuff in the UK at about 1-2% when I needed to be fresh the next day.

3 ( +3 / -0 ) about just putting some real hops in your yellow fizzy water?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

...better than what?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Of the non-alcohol beers in Japan, Asahi Dry Zero is the best, hands down. The others taste too watery.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

After you get drunk they taste OK. I finish the night with one or two, occasionally.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Alcohol-free beer is also unfortunately free of any flavour...

They should make something healthy and tasty like rejuvelac or kvass instead, I'd buy that

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

All this alcohol free or zero % beers is really to hoodwink people into drinking.We all know alcohol is a poison that debilitates and causes so many deaths per year, yet drink it willingly and often to excess.Something went wrong somewhere.Or we just got plain brainwashed by the alcohol industry.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

A non alcoholic beer is not a beer. Full stop!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Did the idea of making a better tasting regular beer not cross your mind?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

 The others taste too watery.

Beer (and wine) are 80% water,so naturally is going to taste like water!
0 ( +1 / -1 )

While major brewers here all make decent beer for the masses I have always found Super Dry the LEAST flavourful of the bunch so have been loath to try their Dry zero stuff.

Now I pretty much only keep craft beers in the fridge at home with the occasional Ebisu or some Suntory P. Malts & ales

Would be nice if there were non-alcoholic brews with taste but I suspect they are all still way off the mark

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The citrus-y non alcoholic cocktails in Japan are pretty good. The yuzu and seequasaa ones. The gin and tonic one isn't bad either. Most of them are zero calories. I think they taste better than the zero alcohol beers and many zero calorie soft drinks. Many regular soft drinks now use fructose syrup, industrial sweetener, which sounds like it is much worse for you than regular sugar.

When I work late, I find I can still unwind with a zero alcohol drink.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Beer already has so many calories, it's the alcohol that is the benefit for the cost of ingesting those calories. If there's no alcohol, then it makes no sense to me to drink it. Better to drink something more healthy, like tea or water. Even a fruit juice will have some vitamins.

People who wish they weighed less, yet drink more than one or two beers a year, alcohol free or not, are acting against their own interests in drinking that beer.

Switch to a hard alcohol (or shochu/nihonshu), and mix it with water or tea. If you are any kind of regular drinker, this will cut a significant number of calories from your diet. You still get to drink, without having to pay the price of ingesting hundreds if not thousands of calories as part of the transport mechanism.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

A non alcoholic beer is not a beer. Full stop!

Definitely. Now if they can make an non-alcoholic beer that tastes as good as a micro brew, I’m all in, but until then I’ll stick with my German, stouts and micro brews.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Asahi is the owner and producer of Grolsch lager, one of my favourite.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I must be an alcoholic, my favorite brew is 8.1% ABV.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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