Kirin, over a century old, sees growth as a critical objective, but it must be growth the right way — in a manner that can be sustained.
The business is actually a multi-regional business, historically centered on beer, but adapting to local tastes and practices, including diversification where beer consumption seems to have plateaued.
A key, according to Miyake-san, is to have several regional Headquarters, each with a high “level of autonomy” so they can make “timely decisions close to the consumers.” In this manner, Kirin develops stronger bonds with consumers through an appropriate brand portfolio in their market. Unlike other industries, strong global brands in beer are rare, and Kirin feels that the ability to have the right mix for that locality works well and helps them “establish routes to market” for Kirin brands at some point in the future.
The strategy includes monitoring each marketplace carefully, and, for example, introducing craft brews in Japan (where it is a nascent force) after seeing their importance in other parts ofthe world. One advantage of crafts, Miyake-san notes, is the relative popularity with young legal age drinkers and females. Thus, craft beers serve as a great introduction of the Kirin Group and its brands.
Of course, regionalization alone is hardly unique, and Kirin couples that with an emphasis on developing strong bonds inside its multi-national company. The core is the company’s “HR exchange Program” in which employees are encouraged to visit (if not transfer to) other regions to learn from local Centers of excellence. This exchange of “professional knowledge” benefits each geography and the whole Kirin Group.
The final part of stronger bonds is among their consumers. Kirin emphasizes responsible use of its products which should enhance social interactions. In fact, Kirin focuses much of its unique research efforts on the specific occasions of beverage use (including the number of people), aiming to have the right product available at the right time for each occasion. Doing all this well is what is driving Kirin’s growth — the right way.
Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
Business: Integrated beverages company in the Japanese and overseas markets
Annual revenues (2014): ¥2,196 billion (US$17 billion)
Employees: 39,894 (at end of 2014)
Brands: Beer: Kirin Lager, Ichiban Shibori; Wine: Chateau Mercian; Spirits: Kirin Hakusui (Japanese Syochu); Soft drinks: Kirin Fire, Kirin Gogo-no-Kocha