Filling up the sake cup

In total, MOP34.34 million-worth of rice wine – equivalent to roughly 1.23 million litres of alcohol – was imported into the MSAR last year, according to the latest external trade data from the Statistics and Census Service (DSEC).
Nearly half of it, or MOP17.24 million-worth of imports, originated from Japan. The purchase of rice wines from Mainland China came a close second, totalling MOP15.71 million in value, distantly followed by imports from Korea (MOP1.14 million), Hong Kong (MOP177,730), and Malaysia (MOP56,362).
Over the last ten years, Japan and Mainland China have been the main exporters of rice wine (sake or baijiu) to the MSAR both in terms of quantity and purchase-value. But the import of Japanese sake surpassed that of Mainland China for the first time in 2013, when Japan’s national drink became the most locally consumed alcohol produced from rice.
According to a report by Nikkei Asian Review, the export of Japanese sake rose by 10 per cent in 2016 from a year earlier, reaching 15.5 billion yen (MOP1.10 billion/US$137 million).
The total import of rice wine for the whole year of 2016 in Macau was slightly up from the MOP32,33 million recorded in 2015, when Japan topped local rice wine imports once again (MOP16.23 million), followed by Mainland China (MOP14.56 million). Both imports from Japan and Mainland China were up from 2015.
Until 2012, Mainland China was still the most important exporter of rice wine to Macau, selling MOP17.95 million-worth of the alcohol to the SAR during that year, followed by Japan (MOP14.39 million).
The global import value of rice wine by the MSAR over a ten-year span has nearly doubled, from MOP18.2 million to MOP34.34 million, with Japanese sake imports rising quickly, from MOP2.73 million in 2006 to MOP17.24 million in 2006, representing a 631 per cent increase.

Taste buds
Japanese sake has enjoyed increased demand due to the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine. According to a survey conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, the number of Japanese restaurants abroad totalled some 89,000 locations in the Summer of 2015, up from the 55,000 restaurants recorded in 2013, as reported by Nippon online.
As the consumption of rice as a staple food continues to decline in Japan, rice harvests are going to other ends, becoming a more important ingredient in Japan’s exports through the production of sake, reported Nikkei.
The United States remains the largest overseas market for the fermented beverage, followed by South Korea, Taiwan, and China, making up 70 per cent of total exports, according to a report by The Japan Times. The same report points to China as the fastest growing market, with demand increasing more than threefold between 2008 and 2015, while nearby demand more than doubled in South Korea during the same period.
Citing the Trade Statistics of Japan by the Ministry of Finance, the Sake Samurai Association, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, reports that the United Kingdom is the biggest market in Europe, although it only represents 2 per cent of the totality of Japanese exports of the product.


Sake
Made primarily from rice, sake is a fermented beverage brewed using a microorganism called koji along with yeast. It is a clear refined rice wine with an alcohol content of about 13 per cent to 18 per cent, which makes it a bit stronger than wine. Sake is brewed like beer although not distilled like vodka, and it can be served hot or cold.
There are many different varieties of sake, as specified by the Japanese Government – including ginjo, daiginjo, junmai ginjo, tokubetsu junmai, and junmai daiginjo. Sake’s roots are said to stretch back 2,500 years to a period when rice cultivation began to dominate Japanese agriculture. [Source] Japan Sake Brewers Association


Japanese cuisine in Macau
Macau is, of course, amongst the thousands of locations where the pairing of Japanese food delicacies and Japan’s national drink has enjoyed increasing popularity.
In 2015, Japanese and Korean restaurants combined increased by 12 year-on-year to 146, according to the latest survey on Restaurant and Similar Establishments by the DSEC for 2015. Speaking to Business Daily, a DSEC spokesperson explained that detailed data by restaurant type only started to be requested in 2014. However, there is no specific data produced exclusively for Japanese restaurants to date.
In 2014, revenue from Japanese and Korean restaurants saw a 32.4 per cent year-on-year growth, together raking in MOP704 million, posting the highest growth among restaurants, eating and drinking places that year, with gross surplus leaping 138 per cent for the same period to MOP51.62 million,
The following year, a 3.9 per cent year-on-year growth in receipts was recorded, equalling MOP743 million throughout the year.
Although booming in 2014, the segment began to slow in 2015, with a 22.8 per cent reduction in gross value added, dropping from MOP281 million in 2014 to MOP220 million in 2015, with the DSEC noting that ‘the growth of expenditure far outpaced that of receipts,’ causing Japanese and Korean restaurants to register a MOP45.99 million deficit during the year.
Gross value added equals receipts, plus changes in inventories, minus purchases of goods and services for sale, commission paid and operating expenses. Data for 2016 is not yet available.


Wine vs. wine
Apart from imports of rice-based alcoholic beverages, those of non-rice based wine has also risen, with DSEC data showing that the city imported MOP1.05 billion-worth of wine (red, white, and rosé combined) for the whole year of 2016, corresponding to 4.4 million litres, nearly four times the quantity of rice wine imported during the same period, at 1.23 million litres.
According to a previous report by Business Daily, France remains the largest wine seller to Macau, occupying 81 per cent market share in the first half of 2016, valued at MOP468 million.
During the same period, Portugal was the third most important exporter of wine to the city, although with sales much lower than those of France, at MOP28.3 million, representing only 5 per cent market share. It takes the second position in terms of volume sold with 993,000 litres reaching the local market.