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In contrast to optimistic coverage earlier, the Korean Yonhap News Agency reports on the decline and apparent failure of the country’s nigori, known as makkori (マッコリ) in Japan. 

Exports of sake have been rising year on year, but an agricultural produce export report from the Korean “aT Centre” agricultural and fisheries distribution agency says makkori has seen a fall of 75% over five years.

Their 2017 report says exports in 2016 were USD 12.868 million (about JPY 1.46 billion), down 75.6% from a 2011 high of USD 52.2735 million. Sales from January to November 2017 were USD 11.1 million, a fall of 4.6% on the previous year.

Makkori is a minor export product for Korea compared to shōchū (USD 84.1 million) or beer (USD 137 million) and although it has enjoyed a surge in popularity in Vietnam and Taiwan with double-figure growth, that has not led to significant growth in export volume.

During the same five-year period, exports of Japanese sake have grown 30.2% by value (USD 143.61 million), and exports of the Chinese traditional spirit baijiu increased by 172.2% (USD 467.89 million). 

Buoyed by a craze for all things Korean and appreciation of the Japanese yen in 2010-2011, both production and export of makkori increased. However, its quality was not recognised overseas and it couldn’t create an image for itself as a traditional Korean drink, so it failed to secure a stable consumer market.

The report blames makkori‘s failure on the decision to pursue an export strategy based around low prices, in contrast to efforts by sake and baijiu to position themselves as high quality products. Makkori‘s unit export price last year was USD 0.99 per litre, where sake was USD 7.28 per litre and baijiu USD 28.65 per litre.

Another factor cited by the report was the sale of makkori in clear or green-tinted plastic bottles with similar designs, which failed to appeal to the younger segment of the market.

Finally, the report stresses that makkori needs to change its current image among consumers of a cheap drink to one of a high-price, high-quality product in order to expand exports, increase the number of countries it exports to, and diversify its offerings in line with current trends for low-alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks. 

So, it looks like sake is doing something right!