Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sake Statistics: Ups & Downs

"Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable."
--Mark Twain

We all know that statistics may not be reliable and can be twisted and slanted to fit one's point of view. However, they can sometimes be useful for some general observations, especially if the discussion includes numerous facts. I want to present some Sake statistics, to give my readers some general indicators on matters such as the number of Sake breweries, rates of consumption, exports figures, and more. Just understand that some of these figures are tentative and different sources may have different figures. Overall, I believe recent statistics indicate a potentially hopeful future for Sake.

Sake Breweries:
It may surprise you that during the early part of the 19th century, there were over 30,000 Sake breweries in Japan. In comparison, that is greater than the current number of wineries in France, though France is almost twice the size of Japan. However, as the century passed, the number of Sake breweries began to drastically decrease so that by 1923, there were only about 10,000 breweries left. That significant reduction did not slow and by the 1960s, the number of breweries had dropped to around 4000.

Unfortunately, this pattern has continued and several years ago the Sake industry was declared to be a fukyo gyoshu, a depressed industry. As of March 2012, there are approximately 1272 Sake breweries remaining, a decrease of about 30 from 2011. In comparison, California has about 3500 wineries. The number of Sake breweries is now less than 5% of what existed during the early 19th century. There are Sake breweries in all 47 prefectures of Japan, though it is only recently that Kagoshima Prefecture started producing Sake.

Around 310 of the existing breweries, a mild increase since the prior year, produce only tokutei meishō-shu, basically premium Sake. That is a good sign, indicating a slight increase in those breweries that produce only higher quality Sake. As a hopeful and inspiring aside, though a number of breweries in the Tohoku region sustained damage, some seriously, from the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, none of them closed. It is unknown how much longer this constant decrease in breweries will continue however we can hope that it stops or slows significantly.

Sake Production:
With the decrease in the number of Sake breweries, it is logical that there would be a decrease in Sake production as well. And that has been true until 2011. Prior to 2011, there usually were decreases each year except for the occasional aberration. For example, in 2004, about 524 Million liters were produced and then in 2005, that decreased down to 499M liters. There was an increase in 2006 to 513M liters but 2007 saw another reduction, down to 505M liters. By 2010, annual Sake production was reduced to about 440M liters though 2011 saw a rough 1% increase. Based on incomplete data from 2012, it appears there might continue to be another slight increase. That is hopeful but the increases are so minor that it is far from definitive.

Sake Consumption in Japan:
Accompanying the decrease in production and number of breweries, there has been a continued drop in Sake consumption during at least the last twenty years or so. Since 1989, Sake consumption has decreased by more than half. A portion of the decreased Sake consumption is due to a general decrease in Japanese consumption of all alcohol, also referred to as alcohol-banare. During the last ten years, total alcohol consumption has dropped by about 10%. Though Sake consumption has continued to decrease during the last couple years, the decrease seems less than other alcoholic beverages so it actually is doing better than those other alcohols. Sake currently accounts for about 7% of all alcoholic beverages consumed in Japan.

Part of the reason for the decrease in consumption is that the younger generation often views Sake as an old person's drink. It is not seen as hip or cool. They much prefer beer and whiskey though some Sake breweries have tried to start marketing to these younger people, to put a more hip spin on their products. It remains to be seen how well that marketing will work.

Sake Exports:
Japanese exports of Sake are one of the few areas where constant growth has been seen. Unfortunately, exports only constitute about 2% of production so its significance to the bottom line in Japan is low. However, it seems to possess much potential for growth and could play a far greater role in the future. Due to the growing popularity overseas, Japan might want to devote more efforts to exports.

Back in 1989, the value of imported Sake into the U.S. was only about $6 Million and by 2000, the value had grown to $10.4M. Since then, except for a brief hiccup in 2009, there has been constant growth so that the value of imported Sake in 2011 was approximately $41.7M, a quadruple increase in ten years. That was a record year for imports to the U.S. In fact, 2010 and 2011 were both record years for total Japanese exports of Sake, topping out at about 14M liters. Partial numbers for 2012 seem to indicate this growth will continue.

The U.S. is the primary importer of Japanese Sake, accounting for about 25% of exports, with South Korea in second place and Taiwan in third place. Back in 2007, Taiwan occupied second place and Korea was not even in the top four. However, there was a sudden Sake boom in Korea in 2008 and it has continued since then. I am very pleased that Sake consumption in the U.S. continues to grow, as well as even reach record levels. However, more growth in U.S. Sake consumption is desirable and we need to do all we can to promote it.

The Future:
There are some hopeful signs in these statistics but no guarantees. The best figures, and greatest increases, seem to be exports and Japan should explore raising the percentage of Sake they export, to reach new markets and help their bottom line. That is not going to be easy and companies that assist breweries in export might also do very well. Breweries have to continue marketing Sake within Japan, trying to reach the younger generations so that new generations of consumers will embrace Sake. I will do my part to help promote Sake in the U.S. but many more people are needed to contribute to this effort as well.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Where do you source your statistics from? I have been looking for similar statistics for the Australian market.

Richard Auffrey said...

I have sourced the stats from a variety of sources, from John Gauntner to various magazine/newspaper articles.

Jason Seifert said...

Try SakTea