Martinotti

Prosecco Rising

20 July, 2022

Owner of Martinotti prosecco bar in Nihonbashi, Japan, gives an insight into the country’s prosecco trends. 

Sparkling drinks in all their forms are in demand in Japan. The vast beer industry is ever popular, while the Whisky Highball has been on-trend for a number of years. Furthermore, the “Chu-high” – shochu mixed with fruits and carbonated water – has helped to boost the hard seltzer market over the past couple of years and Japan’s RTD popularity is strong. Even some sake breweries have started producing sparkling varieties and as a result sparkling wines are now gaining traction.

Besides the sparkling element, the other advantage for prosecco is that Japanese people are highly receptive to Italy. Following the Tripartite Pact during the Second World War, both countries have enjoyed a fruitful relationship. There are currently around 10,000 Italian restaurants in Japan and there is a great affi nity between Italian and Japanese food.

In fact, the abundance of ‘udon’ and ‘soba’ wheat noodles in Japan means many people enjoy pasta. Furthermore, compared with French cuisine, which has many high-end restaurants, Italian cuisine has penetrated the market with casual eateries, especially Italian pizza joints.

However, while this has exposed Japanese diners to prosecco, not all local consumers have enough wine knowledge and many restaurants still describe prosecco as ‘sparkling wine’. While this limits prosecco’s exposure somewhat, it has unknowingly also prepared many consumers for it.

In addition, many Japanese tourists have travelled to Italy and brought back memories of drinking prosecco in its native market. Generally speaking, prosecco isn’t unknown to Japanese consumers, but they could do with some more detailed knowledge on the category.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

Not everyone in Japan knows that prosecco is the biggest-selling sparkling wine in the world. The Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, which works to popularise and protect the quality of prosecco DOC wines, produced 500 million bottles in 2020, plus around 120 million bottles of ConeglianoValdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore and just under 20 million in Azolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, meaning the total production of prosecco far exceeded 600 million bottles. This is nearly twice the production of champagne or cava.

Thirty years ago in Japan, sparkling wine was collectively, and inappropriately, called “champagne” by locals. However, in recent times, little by little, people are beginning to understand the difference between champagne, cava and prosecco. 

Originally Japanese wine sellers believed that sparkling wine made using the champagne method was the best. Therefore cava brands in Japan emphasised the fact that it uses the same in-bottle fermentation method as champagne to create a strong space in the market as an everyday sparkling wine’. 

Looking at the popularity of prosecco today, consumers are clearly less concerned about whether their fizz comes from bottle or tank and are increasingly impressed with the freshness and fruitiness offered by the Charmat method.

DEVELOPMENT TO DISTRIBUTION

Prosecco’s exports to Japan began to increase in 2020, despite the effects of Covid-19. According to the consorzio, export volumes to Japan that year exceeded two million bottles for the first time since 2016. This is largely due to the promotional activities implemented by the consortium and ongoing since 2017. The restaurant campaign, which is held for about a month in the summer every year, has seen both the participating restaurants and the number of wineries exhibiting increased.

In 2020 and 2021, which were greatly impacted by the pandemic, the event was moved from November to December and around 170 stores participated, selling 7,664 bottles in 2021. 

What’s exciting is that participating restaurants aren’t just Italian; some of the top restaurants in Japan are taking part and awards are given to stores that participate in not only the competition for the number of bottles sold, but also the number of guests and promotion on social media. In addition to restaurant competitions, in recent years tie-ups with famous Japanese magazines and online platforms have been actively developed, with regular direct engagement to consumers being seen.

In addition to these marketing activities around restaurants and consumers, there is a movement to increase the distribution that connects the two, especially at mass retailers such as supermarkets. 

The Trade Promotion Section of the Italian Embassy is leading this movement and some supermarket chains have now built their own import network, which by acting as an importer rather than just a distributor means they are providing reasonably priced prosecco.

DRINKING OCCASIONS

In 2020, when Martinotti opened, it was the first prosecco bar in Japan in Nihonbashi, a historic wholesale town next to Ginza, Tokyo, which is helping to expand the Japanese prosecco market. 

In Japan, prosecco’s appeal lies, above all, in its price advantage against champagne, but it’s not the only thing. It has great potential in cocktails, which makes it unique to other wine categories, and many wineries have shown a positive attitude towards prosecco being mixed with other ingredients.

Prosecco features in several classic cocktails including the Bellini, born in Venice, and the International Bartenders Association (IBA) website also specifies prosecco in the recipes for Barracuda, Mimosa, Old Cuban and the Aperol Spritz. The latter has featured in the top 10 of The World’s Best-Selling Classic Cocktails for the past four years.

The consorzio website also features a page dedicated to modern prosecco cocktails and the number of bartenders working with the sparkling wine is on the rise. Prosecco-based drinks are already popular at Martinotti and customers often order the Spuma Crema Bruna, which includes coffee to satisfy both the current coffee and spritz trends. 

Without doubt the popularity of prosecco in the on-trade will expand the drinking occasions for the Italian fizz from casual restaurants to more bars, cafes and then the off-trade.

There are still many challenges for the prosecco market in Japan. The country imports two million bottles, which – while it may seem a lot – is still small compared with the UK, US and Germany. Nevertheless, exports to Japan are beginning to increase and at Foodex Japan, the nation’s largest food exhibition held in March, many importers declared an interest in taking prosecco on board.

By understanding and selling the essence of secondary fermentation, prosecco will have plenty of room for expansion as a new option in the Japanese sparkling wine market, which so far has been dominated by champagne and cava.

As an easy-to-drink sparkling wine, prosecco is steadily becoming a new and reliable choice for everyday fizz for the Japanese.





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