It's all about the sake packaging!Written by Marc Smookler
The brew was decent--not bad, not knock-your-socks off good, but it got me thinking about what is really important when it comes to selling products online.
For sake, many of our customers are in the "exploring" phase, and a number of them are making purchasing decisions based on a number of factors including packaging.
In fact, some of our customers purchase sake to send as a gift, and the initial experience of opening the "gift" is *very* important.
For other products, where the prospective customers know what they want (I want a particular bottle of wine, from a particular region, or a particular type of grape) packaging is not nearly as important.
Many of the breweries that I met with in my week trip (more than 50 of them), emphasized either:
1. the type of rice they used (like wineries and their grapes)
2. the method of creating the brew (varying degrees of manual vs automated)
3. if they owned their own rice fields
4. yeast they used
5. age of their recipe
5. other unique characteristics
…all with similar packaging. There of course were a few exceptions, and, interestingly enough, without being conscious of it, I was drawn to those because I am after-all a vehicle for my customers.
So this got me thinking. Shouldn't I be telling my breweries to focus more on packaging/marketing of their brews until the US market gets more comfortable with sake as a product?
What do you think sake socialites? Does packaging matter?
I buy sake for the taste, not the label. There are actually some ok (on my scale) sakes that I have hesitated to try/buy, because their labels are too picturesque for me. I prefer Japanese text (with maybe an English translation), with nice calligraphy. For example, Ken is a simple blue label with Japanese text, and the word Ken in English, others are similar. In fact, the ones I like, “wing-of-japan”, “dreams-come-true”, Wakatake, my favorite Ozeki desert sake (don’t remember the name), Ken, Born (I know, it’s the brand not the name of the sake), etc. all have similar low-impact labels. What’s more useful to me is the description on the back of the bottle (flavors, pairings, etc.). Of the ones I mention, only Dreams Come True (a taller, thinner bottle) and the Ozeki (a purple bottle with no paper label and simple gold embossing on the glass) sake have fancy bottles. There are others that I can’t recall the names of, but, when I see the style / pattern of the text, remind me of the sake.
I think packaging and labels are important. Even for me, who am a Japanese guy and drink sake almost everyday, labels on sake have something to do with my purchase of sake products. When I purchase sake that is new to me, good impressive design of a sake labels naturally attracts me first, then I take these bottles and read information on the labels. If the label design is poor, I may miss to take the bottle to read information on it.
As to the back labels of products from Japan, I think there is some difficulty for non-Japanese speakers to decipher. Besides hiragana-kanji based information presented on labels, there are complicated classifications of sake: 1) classification according to whether brewing alcohol is added and the rice polishing rate, which includes junmai, tokubetus junmai, junmai ginjo, junmai daiginjo, hojozo, tokubetsu honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo, and futsushu, 2) classification according to how many times and when the pasteurization applied to the sake, including namazake, namachozoshu, nanazumeshu, and hiiresake. 3) classification according to yeast starter preparation methods, including sokujomoto, kimoto, yamayai, etc. And these terms tell nothing for customers who are quite new to the sake world. So, I think Japanese sake manufacturers should introduce standardized indication on the labels of their sakes that are bound for overseas markets, providing information on quality and characteristics of the sake. I think the classification system proposed by Sake Service Institute (SSI), in which sake is divided into four categories: kunshu (fragrant type), soshu (light and smooth type), junshu (rich type), and jukushu (aged type), is easy to understand for general customers. Beside this classification, if some values such as alcohol value, acidity, SMV, and rice polishing rate are provided in a standard format, it is convenient for customers to select their sake.
I am actually not partial to where sake is made, just the quality, and its story…so in answer to your question, I have no issue with locally made sake. In fact, I sell Texas Sake which is made locally to me in Austin TX by a really cool dude.
Hi Emily…I have actually talked to sake manufacturers on how to label their brews…more to come on that….regarding color of the sake bottles, the darker the better typically because it protects the brew from sunlight :)
Totally agree! Many people are still in the exploratory phase, top that with a definite pricing handicap, so yes, packaging does matter. However, what kind of packaging is appealing? Some labels smack of, “Hey, I put all of the expense into the look of the label.” I, for one, appreciate the more artistic and traditional-looking labels. Bottle color is also appealing to the average consumer…I can tell you that I’ve had people in our store shopping for a particular color of bottle for decorative purposes. As for the back labels, I do appreciate the amount of information that is on some of them, though I would suggest also a tiny map indicating where the prefecture of origin is located (something frequently found on back labels of Spanish wines). Most quality-sake consumers are probably adventurous and looking for an educational experience, so the more data the better.
hi marc, your info about packaging is very important for sales. i would like to know your own views about exporting local sake in possible upcoming customer countries. i am researching on it with jetro n local city office.