Private Label Sake, White Label Sake, OEM Sake - The Differences and Examples

There is a lot of confusion around these terms and often are used interchangeably. The concepts of private label sake, white label sake, and OEM sake are quite similar, but there are distinct differences.

Written by

Sakura Sake Shop

October 3, 2022


min read

There is a lot of confusion around these terms and often are used interchangeably. The concepts of private label sake, white label sake, and OEM sake are quite similar, but there are distinct differences.

What is white label sake?

A white label sake refers to sake that is sold by the buying party with a different label than the existing sake. The sake brewing recipe is the same as the original product from the brewery, only the label is changed to the buyer’s specifications.

How does white label sake work?

The buyer (often importer or distributors abroad) fully controls the packaging and labeling but does not have any say in regard to the sake recipe and characteristics. The buyer is responsible to create the label design. The brewery will then apply the printed labels on the sake bottles and deliver it to the buyer after receiving payment. The buying party has responsibility for the marketing and sales activities for the white label sake. For white label sake, it could happen that the identical sake makes it in the same market with two different label designs.

Example of a white label sake

There are many white label sake bottles out there, but a recent example is “Sake for Ukraine” which combined a social cause and sake. It is not only the great wordplay that makes it perfect for marketing, but it also gives the consumers a chance to support Ukraine with donations for each bottle purchased after the recent Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Due to its relevance with the war, the project was picked up by several TV stations and media outlets, which also brought additional publicity for the Sakura Sake Shop (as the organizer and creator of this sake) and Hagino Brewery.

"For the Sake of Ukraine" white label sake for charity purposes

What is private label sake?

A private label sake refers to sake that is brewed specifically for the buyer and sold with a different brand name. These sake bottles are brewed by a contract brewery for the buying party, the same concept as the original equipment manufacturer or OEM. Therefore OEM sake and private label sake can be used interchangeably.

How does private label sake work?

The importer or distributor has complete control over the brewing recipe, packaging, and labeling. After identifying the right partner brewery, the sake brewery is paid to produce the specified sake and the buyer takes care of the label design, branding, and marketing. For private label sake, there are often minimum order quantities as the brewery has to commit a tank or production slot in their busy brewing schedule.

Example of a private label sake

One great example of a private label sake is “Île Four Modern Sake” which consists of three product lines selling premium sake, fruit sake, and shochu with their own recipes and bottles from various producers across Japan. As they have a broad spectrum of products at various price points, they can target various distribution channels including Japanese supermarkets and bars & restaurants in Europe.

Private brand or private label sake for the European market

Private label sake vs. white label sake

What do private label and white label sake in common?

  • Sales & marketing responsibility: in both cases, the buyer has the ultimate responsibility to promote and sell the sake brand while deciding freely on sales and marketing activities.
  • Label design: in front of the consumer’s eyes the sake appears as its own brand due to its exclusive label design which is created by the buyer.

What are the differences between private label and white label sake?

  • Time to market: in most cases, it takes longer to develop your own private label sake as you have to define the recipe and the brewery has to adjust its production line to be able to brew the new sake. For quick product tests, white label sake may be better.
  • Exclusivity and customization: private label sake can be customized to the exact needs of your customers, whereas for white label sake you have to take what you get offered from the brewery. Also, you can be assured to have an exclusive sake that is not sold by any other party.
  • Minimum order quantity: white label sake is usually available from a dozen cases. When creating a private label larger order quantities (from around 2000 bottles) are necessary to balance out the efforts to tweak the brewing process and schedule. For that reason, it is also often required to order at least 6 months in advance.

Getting started with your own sake brand

For sake importers and distributors that are looking into developing branded sake bottles, here are some points to get started:

  • Define what type of sake you want to sell
  • Define who your customer is
  • Define your unique value proposition compared to competitors
  • Research for potential partners (breweries or exporters)
  • Sample and select different sake

Depending on your stage and order volume you may decide between white label sake or private label sake.

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