Coca-Cola has made many, many drinks over the years, but despite its origin as a patent medicine, there’s one line the company has never crossed: Alcohol. That’s about to change, as Coca-Cola is bringing its powers to bear on Japan to make one of the country’s more popular alcoholic drinks, chuhai.
Chuhai is a portmanteau of “shochu,” a Japanese type of alcohol made by fermenting and distilling starches, and “highball.” In other words, it’s a mixed cocktail. Served either at restaurants or out of vending machines, it’s sort of a more refined alcopop. They come in a variety of fruit flavors and strengths, ranging from only mildly alcoholic to stronger than some beers. It’s a safe bet Coca-Cola will be aiming for the lower alcohol end of things, although according to Grub Street, it’s still early days on the drink. Coca-Cola’s PR department has said they don’t have any plans to get chuhai on the shelves of bodegas and liquor stores in America. But we know how things go: Once they hit, the ideas spread.
This opens the door to some interesting questions. Alcohol is a line soft drink companies toed carefully in the past to protect their family-friendly images, to the point where Pepsi’s ad for its “real sugar” soda 1893 surprised the ad industry with its use of craft alcohol imagery. But Americans are drinking less soda, and kids, in particular, seem less and less interested in the fizzy stuff, so being “family-friendly” matters less and less. If a soft-drink company like Coke or Pepsi wanted in on the craft spirits craze, or the mature craft brewing industry, and put their marketing muscle and distribution networks behind those products, it’d instantly be a competitor in a giant marketplace.
It’s not like Pepsi will be teaming up with a rum company tomorrow (although the rum company Bunderberg has a wildly popular canned rum and cola in Australia), but as soft drink companies look for ways to adapt to a changing industry, alcohol is clearly now on the table.