The latest in Japanese drinks innovation is clear

The healthy options.
The healthy options.
Image: Suntory/Asahi/Coca-Cola Japan
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The hottest beer, coffee, and tea products this summer in Japan have one thing in common—they’re colorless.

This week, drinks giant Suntory started selling a non-alcoholic beer called “All-Free All-Time” (link in Japanese) that looks just like water. It’s the “beer” you can even drink at work, ads suggest. This summer has also seen Asahi release a transparent latte drink (link in Japanese)—which received a scathing review in the Japan Times—while Coca-Cola launched a clear lemon-flavored, low calorie Coke.

Gimmicks are a mainstay of Japan’s hyper-competitive drinks and snacks market, with food companies trying to outdo themselves and their competitors each year to roll out new products to fight for the attention of consumers, such as salty watermelon Pepsi and the more recent coriander lemonade drink.

Japanese drinks companies say that beyond the kick of having a mind-bogglingly clear coffee, there’s a practical purpose to colorless drinks.

A spokesman for Suntory, a pioneer when it comes to clear drinks, told Quartz that it developed these drinks—which are marketed as part of its “natural water” line of beverages—in response to ”trends such as the increase in health-consciousness and in people who feel resistance to drinking sweet things such as juice in public.”

Suntory is something of a transparency pioneer, kicking off the colorless-drink fad in 2017 when it released a transparent lemon tea (link in Japanese). Last fall, it launched a colorless milk tea, and released a video explaining the production process. To make a transparent milk-based drink, Suntory said it extracted lactose and “milk minerals,” two colorless components of milk, to infuse the flavor of milk into its product.

Before the current craze, Suntory launched a yogurt-flavored clear drink, Yogurina, in 2015. Pepsi also launched a white Pepsi drink for Christmas in 2012 (the US company even briefly sold a clear Pepsi beverage in the 1990s in its home market).

Coca-Cola explained (link in Japanese) earlier this month that the soft-drinks market is highly competitive during the summer, with Japanese consumers constantly “seeking out new surprises.” It isn’t the first innovative product Coca-Cola has rolled out in Japan this year—in April it released a slushie-like lemon Coke, and more recently, it launched its first-ever alcoholic drink in Japan, tapping into the current craze for chuhai alcopops, in Japan.

As for its transparent non-alcoholic beer drink, Suntory said on its website (link in Japanese) that making it transparent and putting it in a plastic bottle allowed people to “refresh” any time without the stigma of drinking a beer-like beverage at work—hence the “All-Time” part of the product’s name. Asahi, meanwhile, similarly highlighted (link in Japanese) the “secret” feeling of drinking a beverage that could at once quench thirst while retaining the “adult” taste of coffee.