TOKYO >> Faced with falling sales as the prolonged pandemic nudges consumers further away from sake, Japanese brewers are looking to beautify their bottom lines by getting into the cosmetics business.
Some sake brewers already have a certain level of expertise in cosmetics production, having produced items using fermented rice liquid and other byproducts.
In September, bottles of Kiku-Masamune lotion began filling men’s cosmetic shelves in stores. Kiku-Masamune has long been a famous sake trademark in Japan.
The lotion was the first men’s product developed by Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co., based in Kobe. Although at $12 its price point was nearly double the cost of other comparable cosmetic products, the lotion has proved to be successful, exceeding projections.
Kiku-Masamune entered the cosmetics business in 2011. The majority of its customers are women. But in recent years the men’s market has been growing, with male customers seeking to address blemishes and wrinkles as they continue to attend online meetings and contend with rough skin caused by masks.
While the overall market for men’s cosmetics is still small, the company believes there is potential for lots of growth.
Nihonsakari Co., another sake brewery, based in Nishinomiya, Hyogo prefecture, has been selling cosmetics for more than 30 years. But in November it launched the Que serasera brand, which targets women age 50 and older.
Even before the pandemic, sake brewers had struggled as domestic consumers turned away from sake to beer and cocktails.
According to the National Tax Agency, domestic shipments of sake peaked in 1973 at over 1.7 billion liters. By 2019, shipments had slumped to 460 million liters.
The pandemic further dampened an already difficult situation. Restaurants and other eateries — the main venues for sake — have been forced to shorten their hours or even close.
While the export of sake had been growing, last year it fell nearly 13%, and recovery is nowhere in sight.
Sake brewers hope to strengthen their profitability with cosmetics, but competition is fierce. Companies from other industries, such as Fuji- film Corp. and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., have joined the market.
Meanwhile, overall demand for cosmetics is shrinking as people continue to stay home. In fact, the size of the domestic cosmetics market shrank last year by nearly 10%, leading cosmetics giants such as Shiseido Co. to shed some of their product lines.