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Slumping Shochu Sales

   Teikoku Databank released the results of their annual survey of the shôchû market August 12th, reporting that the top fifty shôchû and awamori makers had gross sales of \298.1 billion in 2010, a drop of 2.5% over the previous year. This is the second consecutive yearly decline--sales fell 1.1% in 2009. Reasons for the drop include a slump in consumer demand and the recent popularity of highballs. (I am guilty of this. I never enjoyed drinking whiskey until Suntory released it Kaku Haibôru which I drink like soda now. Hic!)

   The gross sales of the top fifty shôchû and awamori producers was studied from January to December of 2010. Forty-six of the companies are based in the Kyûshû-Okinawa region.

   Of the fifty companies, roughly sixty percent, or 29 companies, showed a drop in sales. The firm with the greatest sales, mugi shôchû maker, Iichiko, based in Usa City, Ôita Prefecture, saw a decrease of 4.9% in sales. (I have long been familiar with Iichiko from their ad campaign--every month they pin up large posters at train stations like the one at the top of this post--but I have never once tried their mugi shôchû. High time I did.) Four of the top five companies all experienced a reduction in revenue. Only second placed Kirishima Shuzô of Miyakonojô City in Miyazaki Prefecture enjoyed a 10.4% increase in sales. (Kuro Kiri, as everyone calls it, is okay. Not the best shôchû in the world, but not the worst either.)

   A leading force in the imo (potato) shôchû market with Kirishima Black (黒霧島) at the center, its sales have continued to grow. The company has placed second in gross sales for eight years running. The Kirishima Black brand is well known in metropolitan areas and has maintained steady growth.

   Among awamori makers, Kumejima’s Kumesen has enjoyed a 7.4% increase in sales, coming in 19th, up four places from 2009. On the other hand, Higa Shuzô of Yomitan City, Okinawa Prefecture, which produces Zampa brand awamori, has seen their sales slip 13.6%. (Kumesen is much better than Zampa--full stop. It's no mystery that one distillery's sales have gone up while the other's has suffered.)

   As consumers continue to turn to cheaper products (more on this in a later post), competition among shôchû producers has intensified. With the popularity of the comparatively inexpensive highball, Suntory Holdings has seen sales of whiskey increase 17%. It can be said that some of the demand for shôchû has been “drunken” by thirst for highballs. (This pun works better in the Japanese.)


From the Nikkei Shimbun

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