Kirin to export Fuji whisky to China, Australia in April

Kirin will begin exporting whisky distilled in Japan to China and Australia in April, hoping to cash in on the spirit’s rising popularity in Asia.

The Japanese drinks maker, which faces an aging, shrinking population at home, will serve up its Fuji whisky in the Asian market, its first significant foray abroad since it launched in U.S. the last year and in France in 2020.

Fuji, which will be priced at around 680 yuan ($107) in China and 149 Australian dollars ($108) per 700 ml bottle, is a single-grain whisky.

The distiller has set a global sales target of 1.2 billion yen ($10.5 million) this year, up 202% from 2021. Kirin hopes to generate 50% of its whisky sales from foreign markets by 2025.

Kirin Brewery, a subsidiary of Kirin Holdings, makes Fuji whisky at its distillery in Gotemba, at the base of Mount Fuji. Kirin said Fuji is characterized by its fruity, orange and grape flavors.

Japanese whisky is increasingly popular overseas, with some exclusive batches fetching eye-watering prices. A single bottle of 50-year-old Yamazaki, made by Kirin’s rival Suntory, sold at auction for more than $300,000 in 2018. In January 2020, Suntory announced a lottery for 100 bottles of Yamazaki 55, priced at a little over $27,000 a pop.

Kirin President and CEO Hideki Horiguchi shows off a bottle of Fuji whisky after news conference in Tokyo on March 17. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

According to trade statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Finance, the country’s whisky exports in 2020 were worth 27.1 billion yen, overtaking sake exports for the first time in 20 years.

Hideki Horiguchi, CEO of Kirin Brewery, mentioned that Japanese whiskys have won high praise overseas in recent years, partly because they have won a number of prestigious awards.

While Japanese whisky is becoming popular overseas, distillers have had trouble meeting demand. Kirin has spent 8 billion yen on new equipment and to expand its storage capacity by 20% at the Fuji Gotemba Distillery, which started operation last year.

“The Chinese consumer market has high trust in Japanese brands,” Horiguchi told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “The whisky market is also growing fast [in China]. I feel the potential of the market.” Horiguchi also said he is confident in Kirin’s ability to attract Australian consumers as Japanese whisky becomes better known.

Kirin faces a number of medium- to long-term challenges. In addition to declining domestic alcohol consumption overall, the company made the decision to end its profitable beer brewing business in Myanmar after it concluded there was no hope of resolving a dispute with its military-backed partner a year after a military putsch plunged the Southeast Asian nation into turmoil.

Horiguchi stressed that the whisky business will be a new growth engine for the company.

Read the full article.