2021 American Craft Beer Experience in Japan: A Review

Link to article craft beer in glasses and beer ingredient illustrations

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More U.S. breweries export to Japan than any other international beer market in the world. Despite a turbulent time marked by the pandemic, the presence of American craft beer in Japan remains at an all-time high.

As U.S. craft breweries add capacity and plan for the long term, many are looking toward international markets. The Brewers Association Export Development Program (EDP) exists to complement those efforts by providing opportunities to develop trade connections, raise awareness at shows and festivals, and conduct education for brewers and consumers alike.

While the program’s usual in-person festival activities were not feasible last year, the EDP displayed a commitment to the continued promotion of American craft beer in Japan via the return of the American Craft Beer Experience (ACBE) in a hybrid format. As with other marketing activities coordinated by the EDP, the 2021 ACBE sought to raise awareness of American craft beer among Japanese consumers, media, and trade members. The multi-month campaign consisted of digital and social media elements; public relations outreach and a media collaboration; an in-person trade tasting workshop; five educational webinars; and two interactive consumer contests.

Let’s look at the various elements of the 2021 ACBE campaign and how it performed for members of the Export Development Program.

Campaign Website

During the campaign, www.uscraftbeer.jp served as the foundation for telling the story of American craft beer, the brewers that make it, and the people that inspire it. The most popular feature was the directory of breweries and their beers available in the Japanese market. From discovering the history of a brewery’s origins to learning a beer’s style metrics and where to buy it in Japan, the campaign website supplied Japanese consumers with an outlet to familiarize themselves with their favorite brands.

In addition to the directories, the campaign website provided a home base for other elements of the campaign such as a Japanese food writer relay, a slate of new and archived educational webinars, and a landing page for social media and public relations work. From October to December, the website reached a broad audience across Japan with 19,300 individual users and more than 45,000 page views.

Digital Advertising and Social Media

international web advertisement of American craft beer

A social media push on the ACBE Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter channels highlighted brewery information, beer style education, served as communication channels for the campaign contests, and promoted events hosted by importers and participating retailers across Japan. Following the 2021 efforts, social media followers are up 12% across all platforms, with over 1,240,145 impressions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Digital advertising was implemented on Japanese craft beer websites and social channels throughout the campaign period and generated a reach of over 2,780,152 impressions in 2021.

Public Relations and Media

California-Style Magazine, January 2022 Issue

The public relations and media outreach component of the campaign achieved the goal of increasing the overall coverage for American craft beer in Japan. Media collaborations and outreach produced 56 articles on American craft beer, a 37% increase over last year, with a total reach of 190 million. The total media value of these placements is estimated at ¥41,240,000 ($364,956).

Trade Workshop

2021 ACBE Trade Workshop

In November, an in-person trade workshop hosted 76 buyers, wholesalers, retailers, bar and restaurant representatives, and media at an upscale event space on the Tokyo boardwalk. Over the course of six hours, Japanese importers of American craft beer were provided stations to network and feature American craft beer brands they represent in the market. In addition to creating opportunities for importers to expand distribution, the event was designed to generate enthusiasm amongst the trade and media for American craft beer during the campaign period. Participating importers evaluated the event highly, and enjoyed making new connections with several commenting that they wouldn’t have met certain buyers without this event.

Webinars

Beer Glassware Webinar

Following success in 2020, the webinar series continued to be a popular campaign element for consumers, receiving 413 registrants. The series included two online tastings with Mr. Sebastian Hohentanner, Certified Beer Sommelier and Director of the Japan Beer Sommelier Association. One webinar focused on U.S. style trends and another presented the creativity and innovation of American craft brewers. For both events, registered attendees were shipped mixed cases of beer to taste along during the seminar.

Beer & Food Pairing Webinar

Later in the campaign period, Sebastian conducted a seminar on hops, the unique relationship American craft brewers have with growers in the United States, and the impact that various varieties have on classic American craft beer styles. Outside of Sebastian’s series, additional educational webinars include Beer Glassware presented by Spielgelau Japan and Beer & Food Pairings presented by Justin Potts, a fermentation and gastronomy tourism expert in Japan.

Seminar recordings continue to see viewer engagement after each of the live events and are available to watch on the campaign website.

Consumer Engagement: Label Design Contest

2021 ACBE Label Design Contest Winner

Two consumer-facing contests took place during the campaign period, each appealing to different audiences. A beer label design contest attracted experienced and amateur artists alike, encouraging them to submit their own design for an American craft beer-inspired label. The design contest saw 98 unique participants submit 138 designs and resulted in high engagement and entertainment value for the campaign’s social media followers. Five EDP member brewery staff served as judges to select their favorite design that captured the relaxing but pioneering spirit of American craft beer.

See this year’s winners and judging panel.

Retail Promotion: Beer Style Stamp Rally

In addition to the design contest, a craft beer retail promotion took the form of a stamp rally—a popular activity in Japan—that incentivized beer drinkers to visit Japanese establishments selling American craft beer. The concept? Discover American craft beer styles by collecting digital stamps made available at 110 participating bars, restaurants, and craft beer retailers in Japan. Using a QR code and web app, 419 beer lovers drove business to the participating outlets to collect all eight stamps in exchange for a chance to win prizes and free beer.

Looking Ahead

While symptoms of the pandemic persist in creating a challenging environment for craft beer both domestically and abroad, the Export Development Program views the American craft beer industry as well-positioned for growth in Japan. Following the success of the 2021 campaign, the EDP has made plans to maintain the ACBE website and social media channels throughout 2022. Feedback is being solicited from importer partners and participating trade as the program looks to continue building upon the momentum from 2021 and the hopeful return of the American Craft Beer Experience Festival in 2022. Kanpai!