TT-474 -- Wine Trends, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, June 22, 2008 Issue No. 474


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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In light of recent galloping inflation of food and energy
prices, Japan's consumers are apparently becoming radically
frugal, prompting fears in the consumables sector at least,
that sales of foreign luxury comestibles will drop
dramatically. Various news stories have been appearing
about mothers shopping for used clothes on the Internet,
neighbors forming buying associations so that the male
participants can get their favorite beer at bulk discounts;
and businessmen rediscovering meals at home at night
because they can't afford to eat out.

The Nikkei reckons that consumers are separating out into
four lifestyles: the Show-offs, the Affluent (or the
Clueless?), the Savers, and the Austere. The Nikkei did a
survey recently and out of the four says that statistically
about 49% of consumers polled feel that they are now
leading an Austere lifestyle. More than half of people in
this group were not only feeling the pressure but also
think things are going to get worse.

This trend towards making do with less is deeply ingrained
in the Japanese psyche, and the speed with which already
nervous consumers can cut back in the face of
unrelentingly negative media reports should be a concern to
all foreign producers of luxury consumables. We thought it
might be interesting to take a quick look at the wine
sector -- an item that people can essentially do without if
they have to. That is, it is cheaper to get drunk on shochu.

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[...Article continues]

Most foreign wine comes in as bottled, ready-to-drink
product, and we're excluding from this discussion the
bulk wine that Japanese indigenous winemakers use to
fortify or supplement their own vintages. Nonetheless, in
case you're interested, the USDA reckons that about 60% of
all wine in Japan is foreign in origin -- even though much
of it appears under the names of local producers such as
Mercian, Sapporo, and Suntory (the wine Big 3 in Japan).

Over the last 10 years, the overall wine market has on
average been growing a little each year, with 2005 seeing
a small set back. Essentially, wine consumption has
increased about 25% during that period, while the overall
consumption of alcohol has actually fallen due to the aging
of the nation. At the same time, the average cost of wine
has dropped.

Combining foreign and domestic wine production, the
Japanese have a wine consumption level of about 400ml per
person, just 5% of what the French drink, and only about
6% of Japan's overall alcohol consumption. So wine is not
overall a major drink, but it is gaining in popularity.

While the average consumption level is low, those people
actually doing the drinking appear to be moving upstream
in their preferences, buying mid- and higher-end product
at a greater rate than many other countries. Much of what
they want to drink is foreign and last year Japan imported
around 1.31 million hecoliters of bottled foreign wine.

The rough price brackets and who fills those product bands
are: local wines selling for JPY500 or less, US and Chilean
wines selling for JPY1,000 or less, and wine from other
countries such as Australia selling for JPY1,000 or more.

The consumers of mid- and higher-end wines are typically
urban professional males and females, aged 30-39 years
old -- i.e., those that in the Nikkei lifestyle survey
correspond to the Show-off and Affluent segments. Our
take is that these people either are above the current
financial pressures or they are emotionally distracted from
them, and that they will continue to buy mid-level product
for some time to come. This should be good news for
Australian and some US premium brands. Instead, we
think any cutbacks by the Austere and Savers segments
are most likely to be at the lower end of the market, where
housewives have decided to rein in their husband's
entertainment budgets entirely.

It goes without saying that the high-end wines will also be
hit, given that there is going to be less to celebrate.

Since this market segment also sees itself as urbane and
open to new experiences, mid-level wine consumers are more
likely to experiment with new world wines. This seems to be
borne out by the figures over the last 3 years. Apparently
wine of European origin is slipping in volume, while
imports from Australia, Chile, and most recently South
Africa are surging. Chilean wine imports in particular grew
31% in 2007 because of their reasonable price and quality,
while Australia grew by 18%, and Argentina and South Africa
by 16% each. This growth has come at the expense of the
German and French product. However, France still accounts
for a massive 41% of all imported bottled wine.

Another interesting outcome of the urban professional
audience is that it has taken wine very seriously and has
elevated wine drinking into an art form, or, a lifestyle.
As a result, people want to become recognized for their
wine appreciation skills and there is an ongoing boom in
the number of qualified sommeliers. So much so that there
are about 8,000 members of the Association de la
Sommelerie Internationale (ASI) organization in Japan --
reputedly more than those in all of France, and there are
thousands more attempting the tests every year. This trend
has accelerated since last year, when 61-year old
Kazuyoshi Kogai of the Prince Hotel chain was elected to a
3-year term as the Chief of ASI -- the first time a person
of Asian heritage has held this position.


Lastly, and on a different note, we have two announcements:

1. We reported last week that the Mubadala Development fund
was planning to invest in Kobe International Frontier
Medical Center (KIFMEC) project. After publishing, we were
contacted by the press team at Mubadala itself to say that
they refute the claim that they will invest. We pointed out
that the news was carried in the Nikkei and subsequently
reported in Forbes and elsewhere. They told us that
nonetheless, the news was wrong.

Sounds like someone at KIFMEC or the Nikkei got things
horribly wrong. International organizations do not like
news leaks nor speculation.

2. If you are thinking about expanding your business to
Hong Kong -- often the stopping off point for China, you
may want to set up an obligation-free appointment with Mr.
David Wells, a well-known business adviser based in Hong
Kong and with a track record of assisting foreign firms
initially based here in Japan. He is a business and tax
planning expert who is able to provide management guidance
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Hong Kong. Wells will be in Tokyo from tomorrow through to
June 27, and is available for private appointments.
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+++ NEWS

- Electric car chargers at shopping malls
- METI subsidies for solar cells?
- Buy-out prices falling?
- Executive survey calls end of economic expansion
- Seven & I turns into farmer

-> Electric car chargers at shopping malls

In case anyone thinks that electric plug-in cars are not
going to be huge, pay attention to what is happening at
Japan's leading supermarket chain. Aeon is apparently
negotiating with Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy (Subaru)
so that it can supply customers with electric vehicle
battery charging stations in their car parks. Apparently
Aeon is looking at installing high-power chargers which
will recharge an auto's lithium battery in about one hour,
compared to 7-14 hours from a standard household outlet.
(Source: TT commentary from, Jun 21, 2008)

-> METI subsidies for solar cells?

After almost 5 years of slowing photovoltaic panel sales
here in Japan, and yet soaring demand in Europe and the
USA, the Japanese government seems to have come to the
conclusion that it needs to be subsidizing the purchase
cost of such systems here as well. A bill to provide tax
breaks for individuals buying solar home power units is
likely to be prepared by the end of August and should pass
into law in FY2009 (early 2010). METI apparently wants the
current JPY2.2m per-house typical purchase price of a solar
system to drop to around JPY1.1m. ***Ed: So the point of
this story is: wait 12 months before making any solar power
purchases.** (Source: TT commentary from Nikkei, Jun 22,

-> Buy-out prices falling?

An article in the Wall Street Journal has it that because
of the global credit crunch, the prices that private equity
firms are willing to pay for asset buy-outs is dropping.
The article uses as its premise the fact that Bain Capital
was able to buy out audio-maker D&M Holdings for US$690m
(assets and debt), effectively around 6.7x the company's
earnings. The WSJ notes that typically PE firms have paid
10x or more for healthy companies. ***Ed: In actual fact,
however, for companies valued at less than JPY5bn, the
average PE for a company with flat earnings is just
3.5x-5x. So it's interesting to see this trend move up the
food chain.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jun 20,

-> Executive survey calls end of economic expansion

An Asahi shimbun biannual survey polling top managers in
Japan's 100 leading companies has found that at least 53%
of them feel the present economic expansion has already
ended, up substantially from 7% giving the same answer last

November. Another 32% felt that the expansion would run
through next year. ***Ed: Analysts are predicting a
slowdown in Q2 due to overall drag in the global economy,
so maybe the majority will turn out to be right.** (Source:
TT commentary from, Jun 22, 2008)

-> Seven & I turns into farmer

Reflecting the ongoing trend for large supermarket
operators to cut out the middlemen (thank you, Walmart!),
Japan's top supermarket retailer Seven & I Holdings
(Ito-Yokado) has announced that it will start producing its
own vegetables for sale in its stores. It will open around
10 farming subsidiaries around Japan, starting this summer.
***Ed: The company officially says that it is going direct
because of customer concerns about food safety and imports
-- however, the fact is that it is already contracting most
of its production to Japanese farmers, so how "safe" do
they need to be? Given that Seven & I is doing about
JPY100bn (US$934.5m) of vegetable sales, cutting out the
15%-20% of farmer margins will bring the company savings of
billions of yen, even after financing and operating

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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