The best way to predict the future is to look at the markets both local and abroad and the variances between large breweries and jizake. In Japan, sake has taken a back seat to many other locally-made alcohols such as malted beers and distilled beverages like the local shochu Non-sake products have the advantage of being better positioned in the market because of pricing. These “other” alcohols are considered better value products that provide more “bang for the yen.”
It is important to realize that the premium sake market is extremely small with the bulk of its sales coming from regular futsushu. This meat and potatoes segment is incredibly important and is the lifeblood of the major breweries. The premium category has remained mostly flat in sales whilst the regular sake segment has tanked and will probably continue to do so. This regular sake segment is supported mainly by males 35 years and older. The future for this major part of the market looks bleak as its customer base is aging rapidly. Is it possible for the major breweries to court a new customer base – to create a new segment of sake drinkers?
Ironically success in the near term may be achieved by micro breweries acting like macro breweries and vice versa. Large national breweries are getting destroyed in the market, and they need to retool their efforts and product lines. In a sense they need to “pretend” or “act” like small jizakes in creating high-end and non-automated premium brews that will speak to a new customer base. In many instances these massive brands need to create small “new name brands” to appear like small boutique breweries. Macro breweries have to change their modus operandi to better court the ever shifting market.
In this regard, jizakes need to start cutting costs by using more automation to offset the loss of the “graying” workforce, and they need to do more marketing/advertising outreach to attract a new drinking customer base. There is no denying that mid-size or small breweries need to create a far better product at a lower price point. Handcrafted sake is expensive to make, and the retail price turns many potential drinkers away. The quality of sake yen for yen at the lower tier product offerings do not compete well with shochu or beer. They need to answer the market’s cry of “why should I pay this much for average sake, when I can pay the same for a pretty decent bottle of distilled spirits?” The jizakemarket needs to increase quality at the low end, and this is especially true for overseas markets, where shipping costs increases the price of sake generally 20-30% more than the local retail price.