By YUJI YAMASHITA/ Staff Writer
March 28, 2023 at 07:00 JST
Kirin Brewery Co., a relatively new and unknown player in Japan’s whisky market, is looking overseas to make its mark.
The company, known more as a beer-brewing giant, has set a target of increasing its whisky sales abroad to around 3.5 billion yen ($27 million) by 2030, more than seven times the figure in 2022.
Kirin Brewery’s own estimate shows it has only about a 2 to 3 percent share of the domestic whisky market, well behind Suntory Spirits Ltd. and Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.
“In Japan, Suntory and Nikka are the major companies in the whisky market, holding the No. 1 and No. 2 positions,” Hideki Horiguchi, president of Kirin Brewery, said at a March 13 news conference in announcing the whisky strategy. “It’s difficult to significantly increase our share.”
Kirin Brewery this year marks the 50th anniversary of its Fuji Gotenba distillery in Shizuoka Prefecture, which started producing whisky in 1973.
By comparison, Suntory began constructing its Yamazaki distillery in Osaka Prefecture in 1923. And Nikka was founded nearly 90 years ago.
According to Kirin Brewery, Japan’s export value of whisky has risen for 17 straight years to 2022.
Also last year, whisky was Japan’s most valuable alcohol export, surpassing even sake.
Kirin Brewery is focusing its overseas sales strategy on its “Fuji” brand, which was launched in Japan in 2020.
Underground water collected in the area of the Fuji Gotenba distillery is used for the brand. The punt at the bottom of Fuji whisky bottles rises inside to mimic the shape of Mount Fuji.
Kirin Brewery started selling the Fuji brand overseas in the United States and France in 2021. Last year, it marketed the brand in Australia, China and Singapore.
The company’s overseas whisky sales in 2022, much of which came from the Fuji brand, totaled 450 million yen, topping its domestic sales of 340 million yen for the Fuji brand.
By 2030, the company plans to have overseas sales make up the majority of revenue from Fuji whisky.
“The Fuji brand is highly rated compared with other domestically made whiskies,” Horiguchi said.
He said the company wants the Fuji whisky brand to be a growth driver along with its craft beer business.
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