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Biz / TechFriday, April 14

Global Cheers for Sake

As the global popularity of washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, grows, people around the world are falling in love with sake.

Atsuhide Kato, the president of a sake brewery in Japan, is speaking at a seminar at a Japanese restaurant in Taiwan.

"Use a wine glass for our sake so you can enjoy its aroma," he says.

Kato is full of enthusiasm about sake.

"Now you'll hear something signifying a feast. The bottle will make a popping sound," he continues.

The participants are impressed.

Kato is the 11th-generation head of the brewery, which was founded in Fukui Prefecture in 1860.

A turning point for Kato came 19 years ago, when his sake won top prize at an international competition. He decided then to dedicate himself to introducing sake to the world.

"In Europe, I can't speak Hungarian at all, for example. But people there still said my sake is delicious. I was very pleased. I see unlimited market potential for sake," says Kato.

Kato has since become a globe-trotter. For 6 months a year, he travels abroad, selling his sake.

He has built sales channels in 44 countries and regions.

The brewery's annual overseas sales have grown 10-fold over the past decade, to about $9 million.

When he's in Japan, he hosts importers from abroad.

An Israeli trader was a recent visitor.

Kato counts on traders like this to help market his brand around the world.

To prepare for sake sales in Israel, Kato obtained a kosher certificate, meaning his products meet the regulations of Jewish dietary law.

Kosher foods must be prepared under strict controls, including the origin of ingredients. Production facilities must be kept clean. Rabbis inspect the facilities before issuing certificates.

"This allows them to enter to new markets. Not only Israel market, but also New York market and European market. Japanese sake trend is just started in Israel," says Oren Shabo, CEO of YamaVakedma.

"I've done my best over the years to ensure that sake will be celebrated everywhere. I believe this is only the beginning," Kato says.

Kato has blazed a trail in selling sake globally. His goal is to bring sake consumption closer to the level of wine.