Japanese Wine Market Comes of Age

The Japanese wine market has now ‘come of age’ with wine drinkers increasingly open to new consumption occasions, wine styles and innovations, according to Rabobank’s latest Wine Quarterly report.

photo of luxury wines

Far from being a ‘curiosity’, the report says, Japan ranks as one of the world’s most valuable wine import markets.

However, according to report co-author, Rabobank senior wine analyst Marc Soccio, many global wine-exporting regions had turned their attention away from Japan after the market declined from its peak 16 years ago.

“But in more recent years, the hype surrounding the China wine market boom has coincided with a significant, yet much-less publicised, renewed interest in wine across the Sea of Japan,” he says. “This has opened the way for New World producers, most notably Chile, to gain a foothold in the market, with the added advantage of a Free Trade Agreement.

Changing Japanese market

Japan has matured into a much more rounded, stable wine market that is increasingly open to exploring what wine the world has to offer, the report says.

“It is becoming clear that wine has become less of a novelty in Japan and is steadily edging into the mainstream food and beverage culture of Japanese society,” says Soccio.

“Japanese consumers at large are becoming increasingly exposed and open to foreign cultures and consumer trends.  At the same time, the Japanese wine market is benefiting from the waning popularity of traditional beverages, such as beer and sake, as both the trade and consumers become more confident in matching wine with local cuisine,” says Soccio.

Newer generations of consumers – including female drinkers – are also bringing a  new perspective to the wine category. “For example, premium sparkling wines are experiencing strong growth, assuming the traditional role of sake in celebrations,” says Soccio, “while wine continues to benefit from the implicit health associations it has among the health-conscious Japanese market.”

Emergence of New World wines

This growing maturity in the high-value Japanese wine market has led to foreign wine suppliers finding increasing success with more diverse and sophisticated wine offers.

Long considered the domain of Old World wine exporters, particularly France, the Japanese wine market is opening up to New World players.

“The Chilean wine industry, with its powerful low-end offering has resonated with Japanese wine consumers and the trade,” says Soccio.  “With the assistance of import tariff cuts associated with the Japan-Chile Economic Partnership Agreement enacted in 2007, Chile’s share of Japanese wine import volumes has more than tripled, growing from 7.5 per cent in 2007 to more than 25 per cent in late 2014, eclipsing France.”

“While the challenging economic environment in Japan remains, this is a wine market that is growing most strongly at premium price points which makes it very interesting to global wine producers. With competition expected to continue to heat up, more New World countries, and less familiar Old World powers such as Spain, are set to follow Chile’s lead in this market,”  says Soccio in the latest Wine Quarterly from Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research.

Wine cleared for consumption in Japan, 1984-2014

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