2015 Expo Report: Alcoholic Beverages

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Mutual Trading’s 27th Annual Japanese Food & Restaurant Expo featured a record-setting 62 breweries, pouring over 236 Sake, Shochu, Ji-Beer, and Wines from Japan. Business operators and chefs sought out new products, in particular, Sake at the high-end of the spectrum in prices and in quality. With industry professionals gaining more knowledge, buyers are seriously becoming intent on learning even more.

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Sake breweries have stepped up their craft, elevating their line-up. This year in particular, new brews with never-seen characteristics dotted the Sake Pavilion, leaning towards an even higher quality standard.


Sake seminar program welcomed guest speaker Bob Bath, Master Sommelier and wine program professor at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone, the very prestigious and the largest culinary school in the world. Professor Bath attracted a full-house audience as he presented practical points on how to better position and to promote Sake among general American consumers.
Under the title “Sake - It’s Time”, Professor Bath discussed the versatility of Sake and why NOW is the perfect time for restaurants, not just limited to Japanese, to promote Sake. With the recent trend of young American chefs embracing the Wa-Shoku philosophy, they’re freely incorporating Japanese food ingredients to create something entirely new and exciting. “It’s time - Sake has outgrown the confines of the traditional Japanese restaurant setting, and is aligning itself for placement right next to wines at Western menu settings.

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Presentation Highlights – Targeting Americans

As the Alcohol Category Manger, Empower Yourself
• Believe: Sake will sell
• Know: American Sake fans are growing
• Fact: will bring in added $$$
• Is Unique: distinctive differentiation from others
• Can be Creative: serve in bottle, glass, sets
• New: “out of this world” food pairing possibilities
• Powerful Intangibles: highlight the “Romance of Sake”

Empower The Staff
• Select a “Sake Hero” among staff
• Invest in staff training
• Encourage staff comments and involvement
• Nurture personalized customer service
• Enforce proper standards in pouring services
• Familiarize staff with menu pairings
• Cheer staff to earn added $$$ with Sake

Serve it Right!
• Select appropriate glassware

Empower The Guests: Direct effort to core target Millennial consumers (20~35YO’s)
• Make Sake fun and easy to understand
• Customize menus/descriptions to their language
• “Less is More”: the less complicated, the clearer the message
• Set reasonable pricing benchmark
• Entice trial experiences with flights & tastings
• Highlight the unique character: Gluten Free & Vegan
• Promote enjoyment with “Millennial Foods”

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America’s craft beer trend has shown steady growth, with import Japanese craft beers among them, reaching retailers as the Whole Foods Markets. Japanese retailers quickly caught on, with Marukai and Tokyo Central adopting similar programs with Ji-Beer product line from Mutual Trading.

At this year’s Expo, California Super Market buyers sampled over 20 products, leading to their development of an import craft beer category at their Korean specialty retail chain. The robust and upward trend in Ji-Beer sales among American and Asian supermarkets is exciting news.

Interestingly, the 2015 Expo Ji-Beer tasters showed a defined two-way-split in flavor preferences: 1.) new, untraditional types such as Sansho and Wasabi flavored, and 2.) the traditional, Japan-brewed German type such as Alt and Kolsch.


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There’s another new wave in the Shochu segment. Flavored Shochu products infused with Yuzu and Dekopon citrus fruits, both Gold Award Winners at the 2015 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, were the favorites. In fact, they both landed on many restaurant menus immediately following the Expo. Their fruity-sweet and refreshing qualities are suitable for Shochu beginners, as well as with women who seek easy-to-drink-cocktail-like beverages.

Genshu, undiluted, cask-strength Shochu also caught many buyers’ attention. The rich and complex flavor profile was a new addition to the more popular light types, delighting and receiving solid approval from avid Shochu drinkers.

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