Sake has a long and storied history in Japan that dates as far back as 800AD. A glimpse into sake industry’s recent history might appear dire. Sake breweries (kuras) have been in steady decline. Also, consumption and the total sake production has been in decline. Sake is primarily consumed and produced in japan. While there are some sake producers outside of japan, it is a very small percentage. Also, of all the sake produced in Japan only about 2-3% is exported.
There are several explanations for the decline. Much of it is attributed the Japan’s demographic trend of a declining population. Many of the breweries are located in the rural areas of Japan, where they once could rely on their local community as the primary consumer. Japan’s population decline is more severe to rural Japan and has impacted school closings, business closings, and declining tax revenue to japan’s rural communities.
However, the sake industry does show signs of resurgence. The premium ginjo sake make up about 25% of entire sake production. It is a growing sector, whereas the cheaper futsu shu that served the local clientele of the countryside is in decline or unchanged. The ginjo production has also attracted a new customer profile. The typical sake customer was once portayed as the middle aged Japanese man. Younger men and women are embracing the ginjo style sake.
Sake production outside of japan is also trending upward. While these producers are few, it is a positive sign that sake is gaining interest outside of japan. As customers outside of Japan become more educated about sake, it is bound to benefit the overall industry.
The booming craft beer movement has helped developed a new sake customer. Like beer, sake is brewed. There are characteristics with the craft beer enthusiast that will align with sake rather than wine. Beer and sake have fundamental similarities with the process. Each is a brewed beverage from a grain.
Consumers are also discovering the detriments of chemicals in food and beverages. Wine is composed of more additives and chemicals than sake. The health benefits of red wine have been well documented. While it is a stretch to imply an alcoholic beverage is “healthy”, sake surprisingly sake has features that are beneficial. Japan has long been among the world leaders of health and beauty products. Sake lees and sake have been scientifically proven to benefit skin. Whether as a skin toner or or repair of sun spots, sake has proven to e beneficial for skin when applied topically.
While sake exports are relatively small, it is a growing trend. Today, Japanese foods are not just limited to sushi restaurants overseas. The izakaya concept has been introduced in some US cities. Also, ramen shops are gaining a cult following in some US cities. In San Francisco, there is a restaurant and company that specializes exclusively in onigiri (Japanese rice balls). All these food trends help embody the popularity of new sake customers overseas.
The growth opportunity is very high for sake. The trend for premium sake is still developing and is becoming the next big thing.