The canned coffee segment so far has grown to $10 billion, comprising 20% of all soft drinks, by appealing to young businessmen with a sweetened coffee drink containing milk.
But by last year, growth had slowed to a meager 2%, down from a peak of 14.2% in 1989.
Marketers' attention has been drawn to research showing that women have been spending more time in coffee shops, drinking black coffee. That's an important development to the industry, because women have long favored other unsweetened canned drinks such as Chinese oolong tea and Japanese green tea. Also women traditionally have made up only 20% of canned coffee drinkers.
Now, most of the canned coffee marketers are adding muto to their lines. Ueshima's UCC subsidiary in September introduced Black Muto with support from a TV and radio campaign created by Hakuhodo.
The campaign uses the slogan, "Black Muto-If sugarless tastes great, that's No. 1," and features the music of Deep Purple's 1972 hit "Black Night."
UCC ranks No. 2 in the canned coffee segment with a 12% share, far behind the 48% share held by Coca-Cola Japan's Georgia coffee.
Coca-Cola, perhaps because of its already strong franchise, is the only one of the major marketers not bringing out a black variety.
"We tried black coffee several years ago, but consumers weren't interested," said Masahiko Uotani, senior VP-director of marketing, national brands. "We still see young businessmen as the primary target for canned coffee."
But companies like UCC are undeterred.
"Women shy away from the sweet, milky canned coffee products because they are calorie-conscious," a UCC spokeswoman said.
Pokka, holding an 11% share, also introduced a canned muto beverage in September. Print ads from Dentsu use the company's umbrella slogan, "Refreshed bitterness."
Other marketers, such as Dy-do Drinks Corp., which has a 10% share, are putting their new products on the market without advertising. Dy-do has marketed Dutch Taste, a sugarless coffee, in vending machines since 1990 and added another sugarless product, Blue Mountain Mocha, for convenience shops this fall.
Even the country's leading canned tea marketer, Ito-en, is getting into the act with a Swiss Blend line that includes muto, cappuccino, espresso and other flavors.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola's Mr. Uotani said his company's focus will remain on men.
That's "why we developed the new Emerald Mountain canned coffee and its advertising campaign," he said.
The ads for that extension of the Georgia line feature popular Japanese actresses Narumi Yasuda, Yuko Kotegawa and Naoko Iijima. The McCann-Erickson Worldwide ads are themed "Peace of mind for real men."