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15 December 2021

Market focus: Japan

By Denis Pantini – Osservatorio Vinitaly Nomisma Wine Monitor

Japan is the second most important wine importer - after China - in Asia. Wine imports in 2019, before the advent of the Corona virus pandemic, came to 1.6 billion euros on volumes of 2.8 million hectolitres. Compared to 2015, in any case, the trend was positive since purchases from abroad were growing at an average annual rate of more than 5% (CAGR).

The pandemic in 2020, as for most countries in the world, "interrupted" this growth trend, causing imports to fall by 15% compared to 2019; Japan was one of the wine markets that suffered the most (second once again only to China) from the impact of Covid.

As regards wine consumption, Japan is characterized by a strong preference for sparkling wines. 39% of the wines purchased from abroad are "bubbly", with France as the predominant supplier. The percentage for French sparkling wines in Japan in 2019 was close to 83% of total (in value), compared to just 6% for Italian sparkling wines (and 7% for Spanish products). Needless to say, the pandemic has had a massive impact above all on consumption in this category: imports of sparkling wines between 2019 and 2020 fell in value by almost 24%, compared to a drop in bottled still wines of around 9%.

The first ten months of 2021 posted a recovery in wine imports: +3% in value, accompanied by a significant drop in volumes (-9%), even though this setback did not affect sparkling wines which - on the other hand - posted a fine recovery in terms of value (+16%) and volume (+6%). On the contrary, bottled still and sparkling wines saw a downturn on both fronts: -2% in value and -8% in volume.

It is worth highlighting how Japan dealt with the pandemic in a "discontinuous" way, initially by not applying lockdowns (only to impose them during the Olympics and banning the distribution of alcohol after 8.00 pm), as well as having proceeded more slowly with vaccination programmes. Indeed, until August, wine imports were still down compared to the same period in the previous year.

Against this background over the first ten months of the year, Italy nevertheless posted an increase of more than 5% (in terms of value) on total wine imports, above the market average but lower than the impressive recovery achieved by France, with growth of almost 12% (table 1).

The table shows that only European suppliers achieved a positive recovery (at least in terms of value). On the other hand, Chile and the United States - among the top 5 exporters to Japan - continued to post significant downturns in value and volume alike.

As regards Italian wine sales, sparkling wines achieved the most significant rebound (+10% in terms of values), flanked by higher growth in volume (+13%), which denotes a setback in the average price of imported sparkling wines (from 4.51 euros to 4.39 euros/litre). By comparison, France not only improved more in terms of value rather than volume but also saw average import prices in this category improve from 29.8 to 32 euros/litre: The Power of Champagne!

Lastly, a quick look at bottled still wines. In this case, imports from Italy increased in value by 6% (against 5% for French wines) but fell back in terms of in quantity by 2%, thereby denoting an increase in the average price of about 8%, i.e. up 4.3 to 4.7 euros/litre.


Photo Credit Biljana Martinic on Unsplash