- Clear beverages that taste like coffee, tea, beer and soda are trending in Japan, in part because consumers believe they may be healthier than traditional beverage formats, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- In the Japanese market, beverage makers might introduce close to 100 new drinks annually, the newspaper reported. One of them is Coca-Cola's new Coca-Cola Clear, a zero-calorie sparkling beverage with a splash of lemon, plus sweeteners and caffeine. It debuted in Japan on June 11.
- "The need for drinks that people can enjoy without any hesitation is one of the reasons behind growing demand for clear-color beverages in Japan," Ryo Otsu, creator of a clear nonalcoholic beer called "All-Free All-Time," which Suntory Holdings started selling in June, told The Wall Street Journal.
Recent Japanese consumer interest in clear beverages has sparked product innovations such as clear beverages flavored to taste like beer, coffee and tea — and now Coca-Cola. According to Quartz, the super-competitive drinks market in Japan requires companies to introduce gimmicks to attract the attention of consumers who have a plethora of products to choose from. Not only are these clear products viewed as healthier, but Japanese consumers might not want to be seen drinking sweet drinks such as juice — let alone something that looks like beer — at work or elsewhere in public.
These clear beverages seem to suggest the food industry is reaching the height of consumer demand for transparency and clean labeling, and Suntory took advantage of those trends by bringing out transparent lemon tea and milk tea in Japan in 2017. Before that, the Tokyo-based brewing and distilling company launched a clear yogurt-flavored beverage called "Yogurina," which is still going strong.
However, just because a beverage is transparent doesn't mean its contents are actually clean, natural and healthful. Consumers may have their own definitions of the terms, or they may be waiting for federal regulators to determine what they should mean based on solid science and agreed-upon facts.
If the trend comes to the U.S., it wouldn't be the first time that clear beverages captivated American consumers — PepsiCo introduced Crystal Pepsi in the 1990s and then relaunched the brand in 2016 to the delight of its fans. PepsiCo then followed up with a "Crystal Pepsi Throwback Tour" last summer, tying the brand to 1990s musical artists and the baseball season. The company didn't announce any similar marketing schemes this year, however, and no sales data were available on how the product performed.
As for Coca-Cola Clear, the company may wait and see how its new product plays out in Japan before bringing it to the U.S. or elsewhere. Coca-Cola rolled out Tab Clear in the 1990s to compete with Crystal Pepsi's initial debut, but the beverage was seen by some as a "diet drink," which might be why it only lasted a few months.
Since sparkling and flavored water products — with or without caffeine or alcohol — are doing so well in the U.S. market these days, it might make sense for companies to continue stripping their beverages of artificial colors, sugar, alcohol and other calorie-laden ingredients to respond to the trend. According to the International Bottled Water Association, nearly two-thirds of adults in a recent poll said still or sparkling bottled water is one of their preferred beverages, followed by coffee at 62% and regular or diet soft drinks at 58%.
It will be interesting to see if any beverage makers outside of the soda space experiment with this trend. It could be a way for beer brands to stand out in an increasingly crowded market, joining eye-catching innovations like marijuana-flavored beer and no- or low-calorie and nonalcoholic brews.