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Coca-Cola bringing Japanese alcoholic seltzer brand Lemon-dou to the UK – but what is chūhai?

Back in April, we got a wicked tip-off from Tastewise that sima could well be ripe for the UK market, with the latest AI-based data revealing that the fermented, slightly effervescent, low-alcohol lemonade from Finland ticked a number of trend boxes.

Usually with an ABV of 0.5% or less, sima is similar to kombucha (and the Mexican fermented pineapple beverage, Tepache), with growing UK consumer interest in fermentation suggesting that the traditional Finnish beverage could well be a hit with consumers.

“UK interest in gut health, which is keenly linked to fermentation, is up 62% YoY. Indeed, gut health is currently the number one functional motivation for fermented food and drink,” Tastewise told us.

“And lemonade is an emerging trend for the ‘gut health’ motivation, and is growing +1% MoM on average. This isn’t huge growth yet, but it is demonstrating early signals of a trend.”

I figured this to be AI-based gold. And then, last week, The Grocer reported that Coca-Cola had registered the name Lemon-dou with the UK Intellectual Property Office under class 33, which covers beverages carbonated with alcohol, and class 32, which covers a number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks made with lemon.

Had the global beverage giants cottoned on?

Turns out that Lemon-dou is an existing brand name that made its debut in Japan back in 2018. And it’s not sima, but a commercial rendition of chūhai, a type of alcoholic beverage comparable to hard seltzer.

Flavoured with lemon, Lemon-dou is positioned as a lemon sour beverage in Japan. The launch marked Coca-Cola’s first foray into low & no, with the president of Coca-Cola Japan saying the drink was to be “unique” in Coke’s history.

Now, it seems, the brand is keen to replicate its success in the UK.

Traditionally, chūhai (or chu-hi) has three main ingredients: Shochu (distilled rice spirit), lemon juice and carbonated water. It is a versatile beverage, with vodka an able alternative to shochu and a raft of other fruit flavours used across different products.

Lemon-dou has four 350ml variants in Japan, with abvs ranging from 3% to 9%. All are made via a ‘pre-blending lemon process’ that includes grated lemons being dipped in liquor.

In a post on Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan’s website, this pre-blending process was described as “a new approach derived from the technique of adding water to shochu beforehand to make the shochu and water blend well and make the drink taste smoother. Fully grated lemons are dipped in liquor beforehand to gain the same effect as the pre-blended shochu-water mix.”

Ready-to-drink and sold in cans in retail, chu-hi as a concept has little to no penetration in the UK. And while there is no indication yet from Coca-Cola as to when Lemon-dou will appear on UK shelves, such a move from one of the world’s best known beverage brands is further indication that that growth of the UK low & no category is no flash in the pan.

And, for now, we’ve still got dibs on sima.

Tom Gatehouse
Tom is the editor of Pure NPD Insights. He previously spent three years at William Reed’s food insight platform Food Spark, was the co-founder and editor of The Cream, is a former Restaurant magazine columnist and has had chef training in fifty of the best restaurants in the UK and Europe.

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