What to Consider When Starting a Sake Brand: 7 Key Factors

There are a lot of options and things to consider when creating your own sake brand. This guide contains the 7 key factors and explains how you can create your own successful sake brand.

Written by

Sakura Sake Shop

October 3, 2022


min read

There are a lot of options and things to consider when creating your own sake brand. This guide explains how you can create your own successful sake brand. The 7 key factors that need to be considered for developing private or white label sake are the following:

  1. Sake type: What sake should be offered to what customer?
  2. Pricing: At what price do you sell the sake?
  3. Sourcing: How do you source sake? Who is your sake supplier?
  4. Brand design: What brand message do you want to convey?
  5. Vessels: In what container do you import sake?
  6. Lot size: How much sake can you import?
  7. Distribution channel: What are your main distribution channels?

#1 Sake Type

The sake that you offer must fit your market. The consumer preferences in each country are different. Consumers in one country might prefer bold and rich flavors, while others like light dry sake. You could choose a more classic style sake with umami and cereal flavors or you could select a modern style sake with lots of acidity and aroma. 

For sake beginners or non-drinkers, low-alcohol sparkling sake or fruit sake like plum or yuzu sake might be better options. For advanced sake drinkers, seasonal sake including new releases in the winter months, or specialty sake like aged sake or Namazake is a good fit.

#2 Pricing

Another question that is related to the sake type is the price point you want to sell at. Do you sell more premium sake for special occasions and presents, or are you trying to reach the casual drinker at a reasonable price point? Most of the time Ginjo and Daiginjo sake are more expensive due to the higher raw material usage and slower brewing process (2000 JPY and above). Good Junmai sake bottles are available for the casual drinker at a very reasonable price point (1000-2000 JPY).

Great examples of premium sake in the luxury category are “Reikyo” by Niizawa Brewery, “Sake Hundred” and “Iwa Sake”.

#3 Sourcing

You basically have 3 options: resell existing sake brands, create your own branded sake with an existing recipe (white label sake) or create your own sake brand with an exclusive recipe (private label sake).

Importing and reselling existing sake brands can be a quick way to success as already the sake is marketed in other markets and there might be some brand recognition that you can build on. It might be frustrating sometimes, but in the sake world, it is common that only one distributor can sell or represent a certain brand in one market (country or state). Once you have the chance to represent an interesting sake brand with delicious sake and a remarkable backstory, you most likely can enjoy the exclusive selling rights in your market. The downside with this sourcing strategy is that the price is openly available for the consumers and therefore the margins might be smaller compared to your own sake brand.

If you are looking for a higher upside, creating a sake brand might be the way to go. When going with the white labeling strategy you are able to adapt the brand image to the consumers in your home market and build a whole brand story around it. As the label is different from the original Japanese product you are able to set your prices freely. Minimum order volumes for white label sake are around 500-1000 bottles.

In the case that you cannot find the right sake for your market or you want to give it a twist, the private label strategy gives you the opportunity to create your own unique sake with your own recipe that is exclusive to you. Because the brewery needs to schedule your batch in their busy production schedule, you will most likely need to purchase at least one tank (about 2000 bottles depending on the size) and issue an order in advance (more than 6 months recommended). Examples of private label sake are canned sake fruit cocktails or a blend of different sake.

#4 Brand Design

The design of the label and the overall branding are key to the success of your own sake brand. Ask yourself what style consumers like in your market and tailor your brand message towards your audience. In some cases keeping it very Japanese and emphasizing Japanese craftsmanship can be effective. For other sake you might want to adjust the design to be simple and modern, copying the style from craft beer or wine labels.

Another point that needs to be considered for the label design is where to produce and apply it to the bottle. Most of the time you as the importer or distributor are responsible for the front and back label design. After that, you need to decide if you have them printed at a suitable printing company in Japan or somewhere else. Some breweries might even have the capability to print labels at decent quality levels in-house.

#5 Vessels

The most common sake vessel formats are bottles or cans, but sake is also available in casks or even bulk containers. The standard sake bottle sizes are 720ml and 1800ml. These sizes are readily available and are the cheapest option to go with. With the recent trend for more convenient sake sizes, 180ml, 300ml, or 500ml bottles are also offered.

If you are looking for the sake to be bottled or repurposed in the importing country, you can also order sake in bulk. Most of the time it will be filled in IBC containers. It is also possible to order sake in a cask that can be plugged into the local draft serving system of restaurants and bars. In addition to the unique customer experience of serving sake from the tap, the addition of gas gives the sake a sparkling sensation.

#6 Lot size

The lot size is an important factor for the economics of your sake brand. As in every trade, business volume is king. The larger your orders and you commit to buy whole tanks from the brewery, the prices can go down drastically.

In order to test out the waters first, it is recommended to first go with white labeling an existing sake ordering dozens of cases. Once you have tested the sake with your audience in tasting sessions and free sampling, you can take the next step and order a bigger lot size.

#7 Distribution Channel

One key question: what distribution and marketing channels will you use? Depending on the country a B2C approach with selling online and through a Japanese specialty store can work. For example, in the Netherlands, most alcohol is purchased over the counter and consumed at home. How to enjoy sake at home or food recipes to pair with sake can be good content for your customers.

For countries with an outside-dining culture having your sake in restaurants is key. When conducting direct sales at restaurants you will need to do tasting sessions and provide samples. Provide detailed information about the sake including tasting notes and recommended food pairing to make the decision process of the chef or bar manager as easy as possible.

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