Sapporo Seeks Growth Beyond Sushi

Ads Target New York, L.A. and San Francisco

By Published on .

Japanese beer brand Sapporo has a message for Americans: It no longer wants to be confined to sushi.

The brew is debuting its first U.S. TV ad on Monday as it seeks to grow awareness and widen its appeal beyond Asian cuisine and into the hearts of more premium-beer drinkers.

The ad does not betray the brand's heritage. Rather, it weaves animated Japanese imagery like a samurai, dragon and taiko drums into a modern party scene. The spot, which is by DentsuBos of Canada, is scheduled to run on cable networks in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco as part of a $2 million campaign including digital, out-of-home and PR.

The name of the ad is "Legendary Biru: After Dark." Biru means beer in Japan.

Sapporo already controls more than 50% of the Japanese beer market in the U.S., according to Sapporo U.S.A, which has overseen the brand's U.S. distribution and marketing since 1984. But "for us to really grow our business in the U.S. market we really need to communicate with the consumer that it's OK to drink Sapporo when you are not having Japanese food," said Kiyoko Hanajima, Sapporo U.S.A.'s marketing assistant manager.

While Sapporo traces its roots to Japan -- it was was first brewed in Sapporo, Japan, in 1876 -- the version sold in the U.S. is actually brewed in Canada and Wisconsin. "When we first started the operation in the states, we imported everything from Japan," Ms. Hanajima said. But "as our business grew, it was more practical to brew in the states." The beer's signature 22-ounce silver can is still made in Japan, she noted.

Sapporo has a healthy -- and growing -- lead on its Asian-inspired beer competitors. The brand grew sales by nearly 7% in the 52 weeks ending April 20 to $12.2 million, according to IRI, which excludes bars and restaraunts.

Kirin Ichiban, which is marketed in the U.S. by Anheuser-Busch InBev and brewed in Los Angeles, had a sales drop of nearly 22% to just under $3 million in that period. Tsingtao, which is imported from China by Constellation Brands, had a 24% sales decline in that period to $1.2 million, according to IRI.

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