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Transparent Drinks Market – Not What It Seems Like


In Japan, bottled drinks from vending machines are perfectly chilled to refresh you instantly wherever you may be. There are hundreds of choices from classics such as still water, sparkling water, world-famous soft beverages to various flavoured tea, green tea and coffee.

This year, there is one trend that stands out. 

All Transparent and Different Flavours

The sales of bottled water have been a global phenomenon in the 21st century. It is expected to reach $ 195 billion in 2018. As a by-product of this competitive sector, the flavoured water variety became the next big thing, and surely, its consumption is growing, expected to hit US$ 36.7 billion in 2019, up from $23.8 billion in 2015.

In 2010, Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan launched an orange flavoured bottled water.  The brand for the bottled water range, I-Lohas, has been leading the Japanese market, which has grown seven times since 2010.

Not Only Fruit Flavoured Water

The difference in Japan is that the market is not only limited to fruit flavoured water.  The transparent drinks market presents a broader variety, and it is evolving.  There are products such as transparent cola, tea, coffee, and yoghurt drink.  The beverage companies identified customers’ demand for less sweet, non-fruit based flavoured water. This development is unique in Japan.  There is a transparent coffee in the United Kingdom, to avoid tooth stains.  It is not a common complaint from Japanese coffee drinkers.

Battle with Perceptions and Judgements

The availability of chilled bottled drinks is astonishing.  In cities, there are convenience stores on every corner, as well as a row of vending machines in front of the stores, at stations and bus stops, workplaces, colleges, car parks, and on streets. They function as personal fridges on the go.

Once fruit flavoured waters started to saturate the market, the demand from office workers for transparent caffeinated drinks, teas and coffees, soon became evident.  In many offices across Japan, which holds conservative values, it is often only acceptable to have water bottles on the desks. Banks and post offices get complaints that customer service agents were drinking “juice”. 

It is essential to have a bottle of water in hand while working, to prevent dehydration, but that is where it stops. In such workplaces (getting rarer now, but still commonplace enough), business means business; no fun permitted. Bosses and some customers see drinking a small bottle of fruit juice during working hours as unprofessional.

Workers initially went along with flavoured waters to deceive bosses, but they were often too sugary, and the packaging designs resembled those of fruit juices.  For them, it is essential to have sugar (not too much) and a caffeine boost to keep going. 

Transparent bottled teas and coffees were just what they needed.  The packaging was made less colourful, less playful, but more focused on the products attributes – brown for transparent café latte, for example, to meet the new demand.

A Further Development – Transparent Beer

In June 2018, Sapporo Beer launched a no-colour, non- alcoholic beer called “All Time All Free”.  They already have a non-alcoholic beer “All Free”, but the newest addition is transparent and in a plastic bottle. The marketing pitch is to drink this at office meetings and working lunches. Acceptance of this new behaviour is yet to be seen.   

Asahi Beer is in the middle of the second round of trials for the new “transparent beer”, Clear Craft, and it is an alcoholic drink. 

Beer feels very heavy to drink on a humid summer day, especially at beachside. One of the fundamental features of beer, its golden amber colour, was considered unappealing in the blazing sun. A bloated stomach after drinking was also a problem for many, so the researchers removed amino acid which causes colour and heaviness. 

After eight years of trials, the final Clear Craft was ready.  It is not technically a beer, and the flavour is far from that of a lager, with only a hint of bitterness. The trials are at the bar, where the manufacturer can introduce the new drink, and get direct and instant feedback from customers face to face.  It limits the availability to 3000 servings, only at four directly run bars. The first trial in June was so successful that one of the outlets sold it out in two days. 

Responsibility to Identify the Right Products

The development of transparent drinks in Japan has come very far. The technique of producing different kind of colourless liquids is appealing in sweltering heat. 

Recently, there are complaints from some customers because it is impossible to tell apart regular bottled water from flavoured, caffeinated, to alcoholic drinks. There are potentially hazardous situations, with intolerance issues and age restrictions.  It is confusing to those unfamiliar with Japanese letters. The responsibility is currently on consumers. 

With more growth expected for a large part of the drinks market, it may be the time to seriously tackle the issue of consumer-friendly, informative visuals for packaging design, without losing the unique appeal.


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