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Japan liquor firms go alcohol-free to woo Gen Z

STORY: Japanese alcohol companies are embracing a new trend to attract Gen Z customers…non-alcoholic drinks.

In Tokyo, the newly-opened Sumadori Bar offers mocktails, or cocktails with alcohol levels of up to 3%.

It’s managed by Japanese giant Asahi Group, and aims to provide an environment where both drinkers and teetotallers can enjoy a drink together.

The popularity of low- and non-alcoholic beverages has risen worldwide, particularly during the health crisis, when many became more health conscious.

Mizuho Kajiura, a general manager at Asahi, says the period changed drinking patterns.

"Before, there used to be a culture where after you are hired by a company, you go out drinking with senior colleagues and learn how to drink. But now, there are fewer opportunities to do this and we cannot actually do it."

Research group IWSR said the global market value of non-alcoholic drinks had risen from $7.8 billion in 2018 to just under $10 billion last year.

The effect has been especially pronounced in Japan, where the older population - which tends to drink more -- is shrinking rapidly.

According to government surveys, 20% of Japanese people in their 20s were regular drinkers in 1999.

Now – it’s just 7.8%.

Manaka Okamoto is a university student.

"If I have to get up early, and think 'Oh, I should hold off on drinking,' but I still want to drink and want to feel like I'm drinking, then, I'll go for a non-alcohol drink when I'm drinking alone. And of course, when hanging out with friends who don't drink, I'll drink it so that we can have something to toast with."

The changing times have Japanese drink makers looking abroad for growth.

Asahi and Suntory both have their eyes on North America.

Japan's government is also scratching its head.

Over the summer, the country's tax office launched a contest asking for ideas about how to stimulate demand for alcohol among young people.

But it seems like Gen-Z may take some persuading.