Beaujolais Nouveau Shows that the Japanese Market Still Offers Foreign Goods Excellent Sales Potential
J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)
The arrival of this year's batch of Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan has witnessed an incredible marketing blitz on the Japanese consumer. The wine is annually released in Japan as a seasonal product on the third Thursday of November. Since Thursday's launch, there has been an almost endless bombardment of daytime television programmes informing the Japanese housewife of the merits of drinking the popular French wine, which has become an in vogue product. The television coverage was the opening salvo in an intense marketing war. It was swiftly followed up at the weekend by a full scale frontal assault on Japanese consumers. Throughout the country, Japanese shoppers were ambushed in every supermarket and department store by brightly-coloured display stands with seemingly endless free samples of the somewhat pricy fruity flavoured alcoholic drink. This kind of aggressive sales approach has made Japan the leading market for Beaujolais Nouveau. In a short space of time, the wine has become a great import success story. The exceptionally healthy sales growth of this beverage is one sign that despite the long economic downturn, the Japanese market still offers foreign goods excellent opportunities for expansion.
This year, imports of Beaujolais Nouveau are expected to hit a record high, beating the 5.5 million bottle mark achieved last year. It is estimated that 600,000 cases will be imported in 2002, representing an increase of 50,000 cases from 2001. Each case contains twelve 750-ml bottles, equaling about 7.2 million bottles for 2002. This is an amazing achievement considering the fact that Beaujolais Nouveau has only recently has become popular in Japan. It is also a great boost to Beaujolais wine producers who have seen their European sales decline in recent years. Japan is now the first major foreign market to taste the fruity wine each year. The beverage is produced in southwestern France in the Beaujolais region, which is near the city of Lyon.
The Japanese red wine boom took off in about 1997 and sales have skyrocketed ever since. Wine is now easily accessible in almost every convenience store and supermarket. Since the beginning of the boom, competition among Japanese brewing companies selling wine has become increasingly fierce and the range of wines available has tremendously expanded. Beaujolais Nouveau has done exceptionally well in Japan by developing itself as a seasonal product. These kinds of item are usually popular in a culture which attaches special importance to the passage of the seasons.
According to industry sources, this year Suntory Ltd retains its pole position as the Beaujolais market leader. It imported about 2.22 million bottles, representing over 30 percent of the market. Asahi Breweries Ltd and Kirin Brewery Co are working hard to expand their share of the market and have greatly increased imports this year. Many breweries have hired extra sales staff to cope with the huge surge in demand. Analysts predict that favourable sales of Beaujolais Nouveau will probably continue in future years as the wine is gaining recognition as a popular seasonal fixture. More Japanese are now drinking wine, even though the amount of wine consumed per person has not increased in recent years.