TOKYO – Japan shochu manufacturers are struggling to gain a foothold in overseas markets as they grapple with shrinking populations at home.
Shochu, a traditional distilled liquor, is usually made from grains or potatoes. Distillers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but their main long-term challenge – a declining domestic market – predates the spread of COVID-19.
Hamadasyuzou, a distiller based in the southwestern city of Kagoshima, will launch a brand of shochu in July that will be sold exclusively overseas. Daiyame 40 contains ingredients such as sweet potatoes and black koji malted rice, giving the alcohol a lychee and rose aroma. Hamadasyuzou describes the new shochu as sharp, light and soft.
In July, Hamadasyuzou will start exporting Daiyama 40 to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. He hopes the product rollout will help him reach sales of 100 million yen ($ 905,000) by June 2023.
In Japan, shochu is usually served with hot or cold water, on the rocks, or with soda. But Hamadasyuzou markets Daiyame 40 as a cocktail base.
“As the time spent at home has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people enjoy making cocktails at home and buying spirits such as gin and vodka as cocktail bases,” he said. Shuro Kawano, of Hamadasyuzou’s marketing department, told Nikkei Asia. The Kagoshima-based distiller hopes cocktail drinkers develop a taste for Shochu as well.
Kawano said the company would consider selling the Daiyame 40 in Japan once the shochu trend for cocktails it hopes to foster overseas catches.
Japanese distillers have little choice but to look abroad for development. According to the National Tax Agency, consumption of shochu in Japan fell 21% in 2019 compared to a decade earlier, with people consuming less alcohol and switching to other drinks. Globally, however, the spirits market is buoyant: it is expected to represent $ 481 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow by 6.89% per year between 2021 and 2025, according to Statista.
“Due to declining population and beverage consumption in Japan, we are looking for overseas sales channels. The global spirits market is experiencing significant growth and we want to expand our sales channels for Japanese spirits, ”Kawano said.
However, compared to Japanese whiskey, which has won over a large audience abroad, Shochu is less well known. Most shochu producers are quite small and lack the marketing strength and experience of Japanese whiskey distillers. Japan exported 27.1 billion yen of whiskey last year, compared to 1.2 billion yen of shochu exports, according to the finance ministry.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga supports the efforts of the Japanese spirits industry to expand overseas. His government aims to more than triple shochu exports and awamori, an Okinawan distilled spirit, to 4 billion yen by 2025, compared to its 2020 level.
“Government support and growing international praise for Japanese spirits such as whiskey and gin are helping to spark interest among bartenders overseas in shochu,” Makoto Togou, head of international affairs for Shochu, told Nikkei. Sanwa Shurui. He admitted that the shochu was not well known abroad for a long time due to a lack of marketing.
Sanwa Shurui, based in Oita Prefecture, western Japan, shares the concern of many distillers about the health of the domestic market. In a strategy similar to that of Hamadasyuzou, Sanwa Shurui has developed a brand of shochu exclusively for the US market. The powerful shochu, called iichiko Saiten, contains 43% alcohol by volume and is intended for use as a cocktail base.
When Sanwa launched the product in 2019, it initially targeted bars. Then the pandemic hit and he started offering door-to-door deliveries. It also posted cocktail recipes online to boost demand during the lockdown. In the future, the distiller hopes to introduce the product to London, Hong Kong and Singapore, which are well known for their bar culture.