Cosmetics International recently ran an article about Aroma Works, a new cosmetics and beverage brand amalgamation. The Coca-Cola Company (Japan) and Shiseido (the Japanese luxury cosmetic giant) have joined forces to develop a new line of products for the diet market based on the concept of slimming through aroma. The first product to launch, Body Stylist Mist, is a body care lotion developed by Shiseido using Body Style Water a new diet water formulated by Coca Cola which is claimed "to leave the skin feeling firm and refreshed." This got me thinking. In terms of East and West, we traditionally look to Japan and the Far East for unexpected product innovations and, more seriously, as the global leaders in technology and mobile communications. Similarly, the Western world and, most notably, the US, are seen as the standard bearer for beverage innovation. But is the balance shifting? If the world's market place is changing so significantly what can we expect to see next? Will we see more cross-fertilization between the East and West? Or, indeed, could the East now be starting to take the lead in beverage product and marketing innovation?
The Eastern focus on diet and lifestyle, for instance, is crossing over into the beverage sector. We already know that China has the second-largest beer market by volume and, in a strategic move to further capitalize on health and wellness, San Miguel is teaming up with Berri, the leading imported juice in Southeast Asia, to produce a healthier beer, part beer, part natural juice.
Riding high on the back of the low-carb epidemic is the craving for sweetness and, in particular, the craze for fruit flavors. The beverage shelves are coming alive with color, from herbal teas, such as Moby's new Teany Teas and Diet Peach Leaf Tea, to radical new spirit launches. Naturally sweet flavors are without a doubt the most powerful beverage marketing tools of the moment on a global basis. Historically, the East and West sweetness palate has differed greatly with the West preferring dairy and creamy tastes and the East favoring, for example, red bean or green tea. On a recent trip to China, I noticed that the most popular cocktail in China is currently Chivas Regal with green tea. The Chinese consumer is recognizing that whisky is an aspirational drink but only can stomach it with the addition of sweetness. With more and more Westerners eschewing dairy, and with our continual thirst for new taste sensations, there is surely every possibility that Westerners may start to try and adopt Eastern sweetness choices.
As a rule, we do not generally associate sophisticated cocktail mixology with the Far East but taste and consumer motivation is changing as much (if not more) in the Far East as in the US. For example, Shochu is the new sake among Tokyo trendsetters. Just as Pabst Blue Ribbon, and other such classic and inexpensive beers, have acquired "cool" cred in the US, Shochu, which was originally considered to be a cheap drink for the labor class, is now attracting a more style-conscious crowd who are drawn to it for its kitsch factor. Distributors have catered to the new emerging market by both improving the taste and creating a fashionable bottle. Its popularity has grown so much in such a short space of time that trendy bars in Tokyo are specializing in Shochu and there is already an established Shochu cocktail: the Tokyo Spirit (one part Shochu, two parts tonic). Could this Japanese spirit start to make a dent in the US bar scene?
Of course, we only have taken a snapshot selection of some key directional influences in the beverage sector but it would seem that we in the West no longer can rest on our laurels. Marketers in the West no longer can presume that the East will take trends from us but, instead, they need to recognize and utilize the growth of the Asian influence.
If we were to share our top tips with you for macro trends in development, we would ask you to put these three words at the heart of all your planning: home, nostalgia and secrecy. We increasingly are focusing our drinking activity in the home with wine parties, tasting clubs and themed evenings. We are reviving a sense of intimacy and occasion. Of course, if we look at the annals of history, the Japanese were already there. Perhaps we will see a resurgence of the Japanese Tea Ceremony?
We believe that the real challenge to brands, or to brave brands willing to embrace the risk, will be to interpret these macro trends from both an Eastern and a Western perspective. Remember, brave brands become leaders not followers.
Jonathan Ford is founder and Creative Partner of Pearlfisher, an independent and future-focused design consultancy, London and New York. firstname.lastname@example.org www.pearlfisher.com
Ford, Jonathan. "East vs. West: who leads? Who follows?" Beverage World 123.11 (2004): 44. InfoTrac Vocation, Careers & Technical Education eCollection. Web. 31 Oct. 2009.
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