Japanese liquor makes little splash in global market

TOKYO — Exports of Japanese alcoholic beverages are expanding, helped by the yen’s depreciation and the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine overseas, but they have a long way to establish a big global presence. To lift exports further, Japan needs to make domestic brewers more competitive by lowering barriers to market entry and cutting red tape.

Exports of Japanese alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, were worth 114.7 billion yen ($868 million) in 2021, up 60% from the previous year and the first time they have exceeded 100 billion yen. In the first 10 months of 2022, overseas shipments had already reached 117 billion yen, according to the National Tax Agency.

A bottle of Yamazaki 55 single malt whisky from Suntory Spirits fetched $600,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in the summer of 2022. The price was $100,000 to $200,000 higher than expected, underscoring the high demand for Japanese whiskies.

Food showrooms run by the Japan External Trade Organization in cities around the world continue to attract attention from consumers and professional buyers alike. “Consumer demand for Japanese sake brewed using unique methods such as kimoto and yamahai is growing,” said one buyer who visited a trade show in Paris. “[Japanese] whiskies are ideal as gifts for men,” said another at a JETRO showroom in Hanoi.

Exports of Japanese alcoholic beverages have risen sixfold over the past decade as a boom in Japanese cuisine spurs demand. Overseas shipments of whisky rose 70% on the year in 2021 to 46.1 billion yen. Their average unit value rose more than 20% due to product shortages, while export volumes surged 40%.

Consumption of whisky in Japan peaked in the 1980s, then fell to a quarter of that in fiscal 2008. Meanwhile, Nikka and Suntory won international prizes for their labels in the 2000s, drawing world attention. In 2016, Suntory Holdings launched its Toki brand of whisky for overseas markets, including the U.S. and Europe. Kirin Brewery has stepped up sales of its Fuji brand in such places as France and the U.S.

Exports of sake also rose 70% on the year in 2021, reaching 40.2 billion yen, as the customer base grew overseas. “Sake has gained recognition as a major alcoholic beverage over the past decade,” said Masayoshi Matsunaga, head of overseas business at Hakutsuru Sake Brewing.

The rapid export growth is partly attributable to the marketing efforts of brewers, many of which have struggled with slowing domestic consumption. Asahi Shuzo began exporting its Dassai brand of sake in the first half of the 2000s. The brand now accounts for more than 10% of Japan’s sake exports by value.

“We have made a great effort to maintain quality by carefully controlling temperatures when shipping overseas,” said Kazuhiro Sakurai, Asahi Shuzo’s president, who has spearheaded overseas marketing of the premium sake.

Source : asia.nikkei.com/ For more details

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