Kidsbeer: The full story
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Japan Probe has a post about “Japan’s 10 Weirdest Drinks” that includes a photo of two pint-sized carousers toasting with one of the beverages, called Kidsbeer.
I wrote a post about Kidsbeer a while back for another site that includes the full story. Here it is, in an encore performance!
This article from Kyodo has novelty and tut-tut value that conceals some poor journalism and incompetent research. It’s about the growing popularity in Japan of a guarana-based soft drink called Kidsbeer. The brewer, a small Saga Prefecture company named Tomomasu, is now shipping 75,000 bottles of the beverage nationwide. They are marketing it for use at events and celebrations attended by children, as well as a gift item. Their advertising slogan? “Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink.”
Here’s how Kyodo describes the beverage’s origin:
The drink originated from a cola-like beverage that used to be sold at the Shitamachi-ya restaurant in Fukuoka, run by 39-year-old Yuichi Asaba.
Asaba renamed the sweet carbonated drink “Kidsbeer” from “Guarana,” a move that made it an instant hit.
Asaba outsourced its manufacturing to Tomomasu, a beverage maker based in Ogi, Saga Prefecture.
Tomomasu tinkered with the drink by decreasing its sweetness and increasing its frothiness, the company said. It began shipping the transformed drink in late 2003.
That raised my suspicions. Here’s why: I live in Saga Prefecture and had been served a local guarana-based drink that looked like beer long before Asaba came up with his idea (which was around 2000, according to the manufacturer’s website).
The first time was at a banquet following a Buddhist memorial service on the anniversary of my sister-in-law’s death. On these occasions, family members gather for a meal after the temple service. This can be either at someone’s home, or at a banquet hall. This time, everyone met at a banquet hall near the home of my father- and mother-in-law.
I make it a rule never to drink during the day, and not being in the mood for an orange soda or a cola, I was wondering what to order. (This was before chilled oolong tea became popular in Japan.) Someone in my wife’s family knew that this particular banquet hall stocked guarana and suggested I try some. I had never heard of it before, so I was game.
It was served in a brown bottle designed to look like a beer bottle, with a label that vaguely resembled one that might be used for European champagne. It was the same color as beer and poured out just like beer, with a frothy head. I even liked the taste—it wasn’t anything like beer, but it didn’t taste as sweet or artificial as a soft drink, either. In fact, I ordered a second one, and have had it on the two or three occasions I’ve been back to that same hall.
The reason for serving it is obvious. The Japanese are known for emphasizing group activity rather than individual activity. That results in a tendency for people tend to behave in similar ways in the same situation. Whether this is because everyone is expected to behave that way, or because people do not wish to attract attention to themselves for behaving differently, or a combination of both, is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question.
So, a guarana beverage that looks like beer gave men a way to appear to the casual observer they were drinking beer without actually drinking anything alcoholic.
I’ve never seen the drink anywhere else, however, whether in a store on a restaurant menu, or served by other banquet halls. That’s why my suspicions were raised when I read the Kyodo report that it was the brainchild of a Fukuoka restaurateur. I took a look at the website of Tomomasu, the Kidsbeer manufacturer (all in Japanese) and read the section on the history and origin of the drink.
Kyodo Gets Lazy
It soon became apparent that Kyodo left out a large chunk of the story. It turns out that one of Asaba’s suppliers brought him a guarana-based soft drink in a beer-like bottle one day. A lightbulb went on over his head, and Asaba decided to turn the soft drink into Kidsbeer. He designed his own label, had them printed up, peeled the labels off the existing product, pasted on his own, and sold the drink at his restaurant.
Piracy? Highly illegal? You bet, but he got away with it, probably because he was only offering it in his restaurant.
Kidsbeer became a hit among his patrons. Two more ideas probably hit him simultaneously: one, I’ve got a moneymaker here, and two, if I don’t find another way to do this, I’m looking at a jail term.
That’s when he went to Tomomasu, who claim they dialed back the sweetness and increased the suds. They are a Saga-based company that already made a cider drink and another guarana-based drink that doesn’t look like beer, so it’s possible they manufactured the drink I had at the Saga banquet hall, or were the original producers of the drink Asaba pirated, or both.
The Kyodo article says Asaba “outsourced” production to Tomomasu. That’s a funny way to describe Asaba’s proposal for selling a drink he had no legal right to outsource to begin with. The professional journalists at Kyodo couldn’t spend an extra 15 minutes on research to discover this? Makes you wonder what else the average journalist can’t be bothered to do.
The guarana jolt
This article piqued my curiosity about guarana, and a Google search turned up plenty of interesting information. Here, for example, is the site of Guarana.com, which provides basic info on guarana drinks, which are popular in Brazil and other parts of South America. Efforts are now underway to market them worldwide, and Pepsi has gotten into the act. Guarana has a caffeine jolt—it’s dubbed “the rain forest energy secret”—and people can buy guarana tabs for an energy boost. There are also claims it can be used as an aphrodisiac. Some companies produce beverages that combine guarana with ginseng; one also contains bee pollen. That sounds like it would be a big winner in markets throughout Asia.
And the second photo above of a guarana soft drink looks like it could pass for a whiskey and water at a Japanese banquet hall. What versatility!
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 at 9:26 pm and is filed under Business, finance and the economy, Food, Mass media, New products, Social trends. Tagged: Fukuoka, Japan, Saga. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.