The JETRO site reports on PR events for sake and shōchū in Germany, including at the 25th ProWein fair held on 17-19 March 2019 in Dusseldorf.

They took advantage of a group of brewers and distillers coming to Europe, who joined and left a caravan of Japanese alcohol makers hopping through European cities on a kind of grand tour.

ProWein 2019 was attended by 61,500 members of the wine and spirits industry, and over 80% of them had the power to make purchasing decisions. The number of Japanese companies exhibiting jumped from 25 in 2018 to 42 in 2019, 36 in the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) area and six hosted by Messe Dusseldorf Japan (MDJ). The JSS area also held food pairing sessions and gave out basic information about shōchū.

ProWein is a B2B wine fair not accessible to the general public, so other events were held to spread the word to other groups: Destination Dusseldorf on 14-19 May and the ProWein Goes City initiative with 100 promotional events held in 55 venues such as specialist shops. 370 people attended introductory events on the theme of “wine and travel” in the city, which also featured sake. JETRO was charged by the National Tax Agency with hosting a booth promoting sake (10 breweries) and shōchū and liqueurs (3 distilleries/companies) at the ProWein “Apero” event on 18 May, organised by a German sommelier association and attended by around 1,000 people. Many sommeliers and restaurateurs came to the JETRO booth and reportedly liked what they found.

JETRO also held an event in association with 13 visiting sake breweries the day before ProWein, focused on offering sake instead of wine, and again on behalf of the National Tax Agency. Seeing lack of visibility in Germany as a barrier for sake and shōchū, JETRO targeted importers, wholesalers, restaurants, retailers and media with a combination of seminars to increase basic knowledge and awareness, and business meetings focused on facilitating business dealings and expanding markets.

The event started with a lecture from WSET-accredited sake instructor Dagmar Maas. She noted that although nihonshu is often translated as sake or “reiswein” (rice wine) in German, introducing it in this way creates an expectation that it will taste like wine (and subsequent surprise and perhaps disappointment) so she recommended not using the word. Her tasting included five types of sake, sparkling, daiginjō, ginjō, junmai and nigori, and was followed by a local food pairing with Björn Freitag, chef of a one-star Michelin restaurant and long-time presenter of German TV food shows. The second half of the event was a business meeting with shōchū cocktails served as attendees and exhibitors got a chance to network and do business.

JETRO also surveyed participants and found that many, especially German attendees, found it an excellent opportunity to learn about sake and shōchū. Exhibitors also found it a good opportunity to find out about preferences and attitudes to alcoholic drinks from German attendees. Attention from local newspapers and influential German bloggers also helped to raise awareness.

The article also points out the importance of wine when trying to sell sake or shōchū in Germany. Figures published by the Deutsche Weininstitut (DWI) show that wine (including sparkling wine) accounts for 19% of alcohol consumption by volume, leaving it second only to beer. However, when considered in terms of consumption by value, the two swap places leaving wine at the top (even excluding sparkling wine). A DWI press release on 8 May 2019 remarked that grape harvests had been very poor in 2017, pushing wine prices up. (Average price per litre retail in 2017 EUR 2.92, now EUR 3.09,  average price per litre specialist shops/online in 2017 EUR 6.75, now EUR 6.80) Looking at distribution, 78% of all wine is sold by retailers – that figure breaks down into 50% discount supermarkets, 17% supermarkets and 11% hypermarkets.

The JETRO survey also asked participants what they felt were strong and weak points for sake and shōchū. Strengths included plenty of variety, different aromas from wine, high quality and sophistication. Weaknesses included a lack of awareness and price – a 720 ml bottle retails for around EUR 20.

The price tag is likely to be a barrier for thrifty German families, but sake and shōchū can still play on those strengths of different characteristics, refinement and high quality. JETRO plans to continue using these features to carry on promoting sake and shōchū, making sure the right information is communicated and encouraging German consumers to consider them as more everyday drinks.

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