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JETRO reports on their Japan pavilion at the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair (8-10 November 2018). It featured mainly sake, but also shōchū, awamori, wine and other Japanese alcoholic drinks. 27 companies and groups exhibited in the area.

The trade fair was attended by nearly 20,000 importers, wholesalers, and buyers for restaurants, bars and hotels.

Hong Kong abolished excise duty on drinks with an alcohol content of 30% or less in 2008, which led to recent growth in the market. Exports of Japanese alcoholic drinks to Hong Kong have increased every year from 2013 to 2017, reaching a value of around JPY 4.8 billion in 2017 (11.7% increase on the previous year). Breaking this down by product, exports of sake increased by 6.4% to JPY 2.8 billion, liqueurs increased by 16.8% to JPY 850 million, beer increased by 15.1% to JPY 370 million, and wine increased 9.8-fold compared to the previous year to JPY 300 million.

Hong Kong is easily accessible from Japan and there is in principle no import duty on alcohol, which makes it attractive to many brewers and distillers and results in fierce competition. Companies need to have a “first in Hong Kong” or other buzz around their new product when entering the market, or think about how they can cater to local requirements to differentiate their product from all the others available.

Products that generated lots of inquiries at the Japan pavilion included a daiginjō koshu aged for 10 years, a junmai daiginjō that had won at international competition, a low-alcohol sake with refreshing sweetness and citrusy acidity, a liqueur made from an amber barley shōchū barrel-aged for six years,  and an aged umeshu made with Kanjuku-Nanko and Wasanbon plums grown by contracted farmers.

The Hong Kong drinks market already has a lot of Japanese products, and buyers are connoisseurs. It’s hard to hold their interest unless you can immediately answer questions like “what’s special about this product?” or “what’s different?” Unusual types of sake, like sparkling, nama or koshu, were therefore popular. One exhibitor who had a nama genshu noted that they brought the same product to the exhibition two years ago, but the response this time was completely different. More buyers have specialist knowledge about sake now, and there are definitely more who are interested in namazake.

Buyers are also interested in low-alcohol, easy-to-drink aperitifs like an 8% sake, or aged koshu. On the other hand, buyers were not so interested in wine, which has plenty of overseas competition. Having an importer was also important, and lots of buyers were seen checking repeatedly with exhibitors while looking at “Importer Wanted” signs. Some restaurant chefs were looking for special wine glasses suitable for serving sake.

Japanese whisky was also very popular, with two distillers exhibiting. They had their booths in the whisky area of the trade fair, and attracted plenty of attention from buyers who commented that it was reasonably priced and easy to get into the market, and that they were all different in aroma and flavour and therefore interesting.

JETRO held seminars every day during the trade fair to promote Japanese drinks more effectively to buyers from Hong Kong and other areas. The first day had a seminar on new sake trends, followed by one on the second day on liqueurs, low-alcohol drinks and amazake. The seminar on the third day was a demonstration of cocktails using Japanese distilled spirits (shōchū, awamori and whisky). All talks and tastings were hosted by local experts and well-attended.