A company shipping sake from Niigata to post boxes across Japan are keeping something from those who sign up to receive a few samples every month – but they have their reasons.
The Sake Post subscription service was featured in a series of articles on innovative direct-to-consumer packaging in Nikkei Xtrend (full article linked below, pay to view all content).
The innovative packaging featured in the Nikkei Xtrend article is a set of three 100 ml bottle-shaped plastic pouches, labelled on the front with the “Sake Post” logo in different colours and on the back with just the technical details of the sake inside – with no label or other indication of what brewery the sake came from. The non-breakable pouches are easily sent and received by post in a thin shipping box. And subscribers only find out who made the sake after they receive their box and scan the QR code on the back of the pouch – ideally after tasting the sake.
Why not say where the sake comes from in advance? Atsushi Kabasawa of Farm8, who started Sake Post through group company Ferment8, explains. Niigata has 88 breweries (40 of which work with Farm8/Sake Post) but most of them are unknown outside their local communities. If you go to Tokyo, most people can only name around five of the largest, who have made inroads with marketing and promotion. Smaller breweries have little chance to get in front of consumers, even inside Japan.
So Kabasawa decided to effectively create a subscription that allows subscribers to blind taste three sake, then scan the QR codes on the back of the pouches to see what they are. He wants people to go ahead and enjoy sake without being biased by the label or brewery. The other advantage is that he can make use of the innate variety sake has to offer to deliver new experiences each month. Sake Post also provides an online community for subscribers to share their impressions and communicate directly with breweries.
While consumers often look at online reviews before choosing a sake, many of the breweries working with Sake Post do not ship nationally, are known only to locals and therefore hard to find online. Kabasawa sees this blind tasting subscription as a way to protect even more small breweries from going under.
A PR Times article from March 2022 notes that the Sake Post service started in November 2021, and recruited more breweries to reach a total of 40 (listed on the Sake Post site).
There are two subscription options: an Everyday Sake plan that delivers 3 x 100 ml pouches of honjōzō, junmai or futsushu each month for JPY 1,210 (tax included) + JPY 264 shipping, and a Ginjō Plan with 3 x 100 ml pouches of ginjō, daiginjō, junmai ginjō or junmai daiginjō monthly for JPY 1,980 (tax included) + JPY 264 shipping. Minimum subscription period is 3 months.
I love this idea – very similar to coffee tasting sessions held by Emi Fukahori and Mathieu Theis of MAME in Zurich years ago, where I first tried tasting. They knew that people were influenced by knowing the origin of a coffee and by the packaging, so they hid all the packets and gave no information on the dozen or so coffees they prepared, just let you taste and make notes and say which were your favourites – then told you what they were.
And I knew I’d heard of Farm8 before, they also have the Ponshu Gria line of sake cocktail kits (flavouring ingredients in a one-cup 180 ml glass). I’ve only tried one of the hot sake kits and wasn’t a fan, but there’s a whole range. They also make another pouch-packaged sake, GO POCKET, aimed at those who want to easily drink sake outdoors.
- Nikkei Xtrend article (Japanese, Nikkei Xtrend “D2C era packaging design revolution” series, 25 April 2022)
- PR Times article (Japanese, PR Times, 25 March 2022)
- Sake Post (Japanese) [love the graphics]
- Farm 8 (Japanese)
- Ferment 8 (Japanese)
- Just add sake – readymade sake cocktail kit (29 October 2017)
- Hot cocktails – and I don’t just mean popular (20 December 2019)
- The unrecognised problem with sake – portability – solved (23 December 2020)
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