Wine, one of the most representative products of Made in Italy abroad, takes a leading position in the trade between Italy and Japan. Confirming this are data from 2018, which show Japan in first position for the import of Italian wine in Asia. In 2019, there were 45 million consumers of Italian wine in the country (ICE Tokyo data), and also in the first quarter of 2020 (Istat data) - despite the Covid-19 emergency - the numbers are growing.
Wine export in Japan – main competitors
In 2019, Italy was in second position after France for the export of still wine in Japan in terms of value and in third position after Chile and France in terms of volume. As for the export of sparkling wine in terms of value, Italy was in third position after France and Spain (Istat data). Therefore, the main competitors for wine export in Japan are France and Chile.
The culture of Western wine in Asia is often associated with France, also for the great investment in communication and, more in general, in various areas of the wine tourism sector. French wines have been appreciated in Japan since the 80s. In particular, high quality wines are preferred by consumers over age 50, willing to spend more than twice as much as younger consumers. Although the trade volume is significantly different, it should be noted that Italian wine is still considered as a high quality product, comparable to the French one, an can be deducted from the similar price level of the best-selling products.
Chilean wine, capable of combining a strong winemaking tradition with technological advance, is especially appreciated for its low price. Since 2007, it has also been benefiting from the Economic Partnership Agreement between Chile and Japan, which establishes reduced customs duties for wine export.
The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement
The Economic Partnership Agreement EU-Japan, which entered into force on 1 February 2019, establishes the abolition of "customs duties on 97% of the goods imported from EU", including wine products. Before the enactment of the agreement, wine imports from EU to Japan were subject to a tax of around 15%. The abolition of this duty was welcomed by European wine producers, including the Italian ones.
Challenges and opportunities for Italian wine in Japan
Wine market in Japan poses new challenges and opportunities for Italian producers.
On the one hand, the challenges involve the presence of foreign competitors and the development of local competitors: Japanese wines (this is how wines made only from Japanese grapes and produced in Japan are called), although occupying a small market position (around 5%), are becoming more and more appreciated by consumers. On the other hand, these challenges also relate to the average consumer of the product: in Japan, the knowledge of wine has been spreading since the 80s, and today the average consumers are over age 30 and most of them live in Kanto, the region of Tokyo and six surrounding prefectures. Younger alcohol consumers prefer "ready-to-drink" drinks, canned and cheaper, while in the countryside people prefer local products.
Consequently, wine consumers are demanding in terms of quality, have disposable income and are increasingly attentive to environmental issues - proof of this is the growing interest for organic and biodynamic wines. Moreover, Japanese consumers tend to appreciate foreign wines because they associate them with the culture and cuisine of their country of origin. Consumers of Italian wine, for instance, are often also interested in Italian culture and cuisine.
The biggest challenge and opportunity for wine exporters in Japan is to understand which products meet the local taste, focusing on the matching with the cuisine of the Land of the Rising Sun. The promotion of Made in Italy products should be performed by bearing this point in mind. Important steps have been taken in this direction, such as the promotional campaign "6000 Years of Italian Wine", a series of around 70 events promoted since 2018. Nevertheless, much remains to be done to revive the consumption of Italian still and sparkling wines in Japan.
Translated by Roberta Sforza