For the eleventh year in a row since 2010, the export value of sake in 2020 has exceeded that of the previous year, reaching a record high of 24.1 billion yen, +3.1% of growth, compared to the previous year’s total sales. The value has almost tripled from 8.5 billion yen ten years ago. The first quarter of 2020 started with a negative trend, but from April 2020 especially, the impact of COVID-19 showed drop in sales significantly. In particular, the decline in the U.S., which had been the largest exporting country, was significant. From April to June, the U.S. sales were -80% compared to the previous year. As the sale of sake in restaurants became more difficult, online platformers began to attract attention. Tippsy Sake and True Sake seem to have filled this gap and have experienced a large increase in sales. Although the U.S. had an increase in November and December over the previous year, the total for 2020 was -25% of the previous year’s level, dropping to third place among the countries targeted for export.
Breakdown of Sake Export Sales among top 15 countries
Source: Trade Statistics, Ministry of Finance
On the other hand, the Asian sector showed strong growth even during the height of the pandemic. Hong Kong was the first export destination to reach 6.1 billion yen since 1988, according to statistical results. Hong Kong exported 3.65 million bottles to a population of 7.5 million, or about 0.5 bottles (720ml) per capita, which is about three times higher than Singapore’s 0.17 bottles per capita, the highest per capita consumption among other countries. However, even Hong Kong importers and experts are unsure of the cause of this growth, and with almost no sake being re-exported from Hong Kong to other countries, it is necessary to analyze the background to these figures.
The second-largest export market is China, which experienced a month-over-month decline from February to May in 2020, but has since then, it showed a dramatic increase. The number of people who searched for the word “sake” on T-mall exceeded 300,000 regularly in 2020. This was the first time ever. Also, and the number of buyers exceeded 80,000 in a single month. The number of mass retailers handling sake also expanded, resulting in a +16% year-on-year increase to 5.7 billion yen.
In Singapore, the month-over-month growth rate has been positive since May, and the year-on-year growth rate was +30%, the second-highest among major countries after Hong Kong.
Sales of sake in Europe were difficult this year. In the past, there have been many activities to increase the international reputation of sake, such as the transmission of correct knowledge of sake through educational institutions such as WSET and the Sake Sommelier Association, and competitions such as IWC, Kura Master, and the London Sake Challenge. However, the decline in the commercial market could not be offset by other channels.
Even though domestic sake shipments were -11.3% from January to November, compared to the same period of the previous year, it is very encouraging to see that sake exports have achieved positive growth under the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world is currently experiencing indescribable suffering, especially in the restaurant industry, but I hope that we can overcome this crisis together, believing in the saying that there is no night without dawn.