MALAYSIA - The next time you are enjoying a meal in a Western restaurant, don't be surprised when you hear people screaming "Kampai!" instead of the usual "Cheers".
Sapporo, Japan's oldest beer brand, is now looking to firmly establish itself in the Western restaurant segment in Malaysia.
Ever since its introduction to the Malaysian market in 2011, Sapporo has been a huge hit with Japanese restaurants and now the brand is looking to expand its market share.
As disposable incomes continue to rise in Malaysia, per capita alcohol consumption has also been rising steadily over the years and Japan's premium beer brand is hoping that this move would further strengthen the brand's presence in the country.
In 2011, Malaysia was named by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the world's 10th largest consumer of alcohol despite its small population size and statistics also showed that Malaysians spent more than US$500mil (S$635 million) on alcohol with a per capita consumption of seven litres.
First brewed in Sapporo, Japan, in 1876 by the German-trained brewer Seibei Nakagawa, Sapporo quickly became a favourite among beer lovers. It gave a crisp, clean taste that they appreciated and an advanced brewing process that they respected.
Since then, the Japanese alcoholic beverages business has been growing steadily.
In the United States, the brand has been the top Asian beer brand for 27 consecutive years and, in 2011, it became the first Asian beer producer with recorded sales of more than 3mil cases.
Following its success in North America, the brand has set its sights on the South-East Asian and Oceania markets.
This comes after the construction of a new brewery in Vietnam was completed in November 2011, paving the way for full-scale entry into Ho Chi Minh City and other Vietnamese cities.
With Sapporo Draft Beer Black Label, Yebisu Mugi to Hop, and Hokkaido Premium at the base, Sapporo has been enhancing its competitive edge and presence in the beer market and in the new product genres market, while working to win the support of more customers and expand sales.
In Malaysia, there is still room for growth for the brand despite two of alcoholic drinks' largest players, Guinness Anchor Bhd and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Bhd, continuing to lead sales with the distribution of an extensive list of products.
"The major players have a combined market share of 95 per cent in Malaysia," said Azio Wines and Spirits Sdn Bhd executive director Lim Chee Yiong, the distributor of Sapporo.
"However, there is still room for premium imported beer brands such as Sapporo to grow. As Malaysians start exploring the market for various beers following their travels overseas, they don't mind paying top dollar for quality," he added.
Lim's comment reflects research done by Euromonitor, which states a rising number of on-trade outlets such as international restaurants that are opening up in Malaysia which offer food together with alcoholic drinks as well contribute to growth of the market segment.
Sapporo has definitely been growing in Malaysia over the past three years. In 2011, the brand grew 50 per cent and the figures were similar in 2012. This year, the brand aims to double that figure following a series of tie-ups with Western restaurants starting with SOP at Paradigm Mall.
SOP, an abbreviation for Same Old Place, is a new restaurant serving mainly German-influenced cuisines with liquor and beer.
Sapporo's partnership with the restaurant aims to cultivate a new drinking culture and to reach out to more Sapporo fans in Malaysia.
"When we first launched the brand in Malaysia, we focused on Japanese restaurants and supermarkets as they were already familiar with Sapporo. Their patrons could identify the brand easily and they knew what Sapporo represented," said Lim.
"Now, as we move into phase two of our product rollout stage, we are working with Western restaurants to introduce this premium Japanese brand to their customers," he added.
Despite the ban imposed on advertising alcoholic drinks through the media, companies have utilised some other marketing strategies and channels to promote their products.
The bigger players invest in various sporting activities such as golf and football to create brand awareness, however, those with smaller market share have to work directly with retailers.
Sapporo said it would assist any restaurant in conceptualising design and renovation to further help push the brand.
"We aim to have 100 outlets that carry our brand within the next three years," he revealed.
Brewfest was organised for the first time two years ago and Guinness Anchor Bhd also organises Oktoberfest to symbolise a bigger beer festival associating its award-winning portfolio of Guinness, Heineken, Kilkenny, Strongbow, Paulaner and Tiger.
For now, Sapporo does not have a local brewery in Malaysia and this has helped the brand maintain its authenticity.
However, the brand is not shy about investing in Malaysia given its decision to construct, through its subsidiary, Pokka Corporation (Singapore) Pte Ltd, a factory to produce beverages in Malaysia.
The factory, located in Senai, Johor has been set up to support the brand's overseas beverage business.
As more Malaysians start appreciating premium beer, Sapporo is definitely building a strong market presence here.