FEATURE: Japan's soda lovers being offered ever more flavors.
(EDS: ACCOMPANIED BY ONE PHOTO, ALONG WITH PHOTO CAPTION, FROM KYODO PHOTO DATABASE TREASURE, NUMBERED 2010031800025)
A couple of pre-World War II soft drinks that garnered renewed interest a few years back are being produced in ever more varieties and catching on nationwide.
The two beverages in question are a ''cider'' drink featuring fruit flavors or sweeteners added to carbonated water and a ''ramune'' fizzy soda pop, which many elderly people fondly remember.
With cider and ramune back in the spotlight, soft-drink makers have been developing a new line of liquid refreshments based on distinctive, locally produced materials.
Kotobukiya Drink Co. of Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture, came up with ''Shio (salt) Cider'' for summer. The salt originated in the city of Ako, Hyogo Prefecture. Priced at 147 yen for a 340-milliliter container, it is characterized by its mild sweetness, according to its maker.
Business Manager Yuji Iwai said the new product could help prevent heatstroke in children.
He said Kotobukiya has produced nine different kinds of cider and ramune since it started working on the development of new drinks. These include ''Takoyakifu Ramune,'' a sauce-flavored beverage that was marketed two years ago. He said sales have been growing every year.
The Ie Island products center in Okinawa retails four kinds of Iesoda XXX containing local island ingredients such as black unrefined sugar and dragon fruit. Each comes in a 200-millimeter bottle and sells for 210 yen.
Center officials said hibiscus may be used to produce another type of soda.
The Japan Soft Drink Association has been stepping up its promotion activities against the backdrop of makers' efforts to manufacture new drinks. In an exhibition of products it held for retailers in February, it set up a special counter to show off about 100 brands from across the country.
There were at least 127 varieties of locally produced soft drinks in the nation as of January, marking an increase of 2.4 times from four years ago.
Kiyoshi Kubota, chief of the association's small and midsized corporation division, said, ''Small and midsized local cider makers have the edge in being close to the local area. The market still has the potential to grow by strengthening cooperation with the tourism industry.''
Asahi Soft Drinks Co., a major soft drink manufacturer, has also been heightening its efforts to promote its ''Mitsuya Cider'' drinks. It revamped the cider and introduced a fruit-flavored drink in 2004 on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the sale of the Mitsuya brand, marketed a lemon-flavored version in 2007 and developed a zero-calorie drink last year.
Its sales have become an engine of growth for its parent company, Asahi Breweries Co.
Takafumi Sonoda, a section chief of research firm Fuji Keizai, said that from the beginning cider and ramune soft drinks have proved very popular among everyone from children to the elderly. Seniors like them out of a sense of nostalgia, while for the young the beverages offer comfort.