The export value has reached approximately 1.8 times that of 2019, at 41.1 billion yen, with a record-high average export unit price.
February 12th – In 2023, sake exports reached approximately 41.1 billion yen, marking 13% decrease from the previous year. The export quantity was about 3.24 million 9L cases, down 19% of the prior year. Although this did not set a record high for the 14th consecutive year, the export value was approximately 1.8 times higher compared to 2019, before the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, the number of countries and regions importing sake reached a new record 75. The average export price per 720 ml bottle of sake exceeded 1,000 yen for the first time, reaching a record high of 1,013 yen, up from 952 yen the previous year.
Breaking down by region, Asia, accounting for 67% of the total export value, saw 11% decline from the previous year, amounting to approximately 17.9 billion yen. Within Asia, China and Hong Kong constitute 67% of the total value. These two markets significantly influence the region, yet their values decreased by 12% and 15%, respectively from the previous year’s levels. However, the average unit price in China has seen a remarkable increase of approximately 3.4 times over the last 10 years, reaching 1,549 yen. Additionally, South Korea and Taiwan, ranking fourth and fifth, experienced substantial revenue growth, with year-on-year increases of 15% and 20%, respectively.
North America comprises 24% of the total value, with sales of approximately 9.8 billion yen, 19% decrease from the previous year. The USA, second only to China in terms of export value, accounting for 22%, fell by 17% from the previous year’s level. However, as in Asia, export shipment prices are rising, and the export price to the USA exceeded 1,000 yen for the first time.
Marcus V. Pakiser, a Sake Educator at Republic National Distributing Company and a Sake Samurai, notes that purchasing behavior for sake in the USA has undergone significant changes before and after COVID-19. “Prior to the pandemic, sake was very strong on and off premise. More consumers were starting to note the sake they liked at restaurants and then started purchasing at retail stores. This was a very important trend before the pandemic because people increased their sake purchases at retail stores.” Marcus said. He added that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the desire to enjoy Japanese sake alongside Japanese food persisted, leading to a strong performance for retail stores. “”However, once life got back to normal, restaurant’s sake sales picked up, and retail stores slowed down from Covid’s high sales times. Now, restaurants are purchasing sake – many lists are large and customers are going back to restaurants. Retail’ ‘s sake sales are still happening””. Marcus also pointed out that inflation has affected the purchase of non-essential products, resulting in a decline in sake sales.
Latin America, where a sake masterclass was held in 2023 within the ASI’s boot camp for young sommeliers, and a sake service competition was organized, grew by 1% year-on-year. However, its share of exports was small, expanding to nine exporting countries in the region. Finally, Western Europe, which exported to 18 countries in the region, struggled with a year-on-year decline of 7%, but its share of total exports rose to 6%, indicating the increasing importance of sake in Europe.
The overseas representative of a major Japanese sake producer stated, “Regarding the shipment results for 2023, there was an overall downturn, with results falling more than 10% below the previous year. The cooling of the overall alcohol market in the United States, a major export country, affected us, leading to time-consuming inventory digestion, but there has been a gradual recovery trend since the fall.” He expressed hope for future recovery in the American market. Additionally, regarding strategies to stimulate demand for Japanese sake, he mentioned, “Although Japanese sake is currently consumed in very limited settings, by providing detailed suggestions on how to enjoy sake and pairing it with food, it is likely that sake will become a more familiar presence.”
In 2023, the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) took the initiative by participating in ProWein 2023 and enhancing the promotion of sake at international airports. Additionally, in collaboration with the ASI, master classes were conducted in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and other countries, in partnership with ASI-affiliated sommelier associations abroad. In Asia, the largest market for sake, JSS also held sake masterclasses in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam to broaden outreach.
Efforts to convey the appeal of Japanese sake will be further intensified in 2024. In February 2024, a pairing dinner featuring six Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (M.O.F) and six Japanese sake breweries will be held at the Institute Lyfe (formerly Paul Bocuse Institute) in Lyon, broadcasting the charm of sake pairings from Lyon to the world. In March, 18 sake breweries will participate in ProWine 2024 to support activities aimed at expanding new business and deepening relationships with existing partners. Additionally, the first Japanese sake business meeting in Hungary will be held.
On the other hand, sake still faces challenges. Fabio Ota, Founder of Mega Sake, a Brazilian importer with one of the largest Nikkei communities in the world, says, ” Many Brazilians had their first contact with sake through a cocktail called “caipirinha”, usually made with lots of sugar and fruits. The other two main versions of “caipirinha” are made with cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane spirits) or vodka, both distilled beverages with high percentages of alcohol. Such a scenario contributes to create an idea that sake is a strong beverage, with high percentage of alcohol, most drunk in a cocktail or as a shot, and sometimes mistaken as a distilled beverage.”
Sake is still often misunderstood as a spirit, not only in Brazil but around the world. In 2024, the JSS will continue to promote sake exports by increasing the number of sommeliers, restaurants, and consumers interested in sake in the world through activities to promote the correct understanding and appeal of sake.