Award-winning Born a global success

Katoukichibee takes sake brand around the world, garnering prizes, gaining fans

Participants from around the world attending the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group in Tokyo were treated to award-winning sake during a hospitality event in the glitzy Ginza shopping district on Oct. 11.

Mainly organized by restaurant owners in Ginza, the Ginza Shoku no Omotenashi Event had Born Chogin (Special Reserve) and Born Nihon no Tsubasa (Wing of Japan) available, part of Katoukichibee Shouten Co.’s Born sake series.

“Born,” written in a single kanji character, means “purity” and “striking truth” in Sanskrit. Japanese connotations include “creation” and “future vision.”

“It’s exciting to serve our sake to those international politicians and others participating in the IMF meetings,” said Atsuhide Kato, the 11th-generation head of Katoukichibee Shouten, the sake brewery in Sabae, Fukui Prefecture.

Founded in 1860, Katoukichibee Shouten produces some 50 kinds of sake from premium-grade rice, or junmai, which it buys from farmers it has long-term contracts with, and from subsoil water from 180 meters below ground. It ages its sake more than a year at temperatures below freezing point.

Katoukichibee Shouten’s sake has won numerous awards every year, making its flagship brand Born world-famous.

This year, the company’s Yume wa Masayume (Dreams Come True) won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge in London in June for its balance and elegance, according to the IWC website.

Of the sake entries, only 22 out of 689 items received gold medals at the London IWC.

Also, Born Tenshi no Mezame (Awakening of the Angel) and Born Junmai 55 won gold medals at the International Sake Challenge in Tokyo in July. That same month, Born Nihon no Tsubasa and Born Yume wa Masayume won gold medals at the 2012 International Sake Appraisal.

With the name value of Born increasing with the steady stream of awards, the need to prevent pirated products has also arisen. Thus, Katoukichibee Shouten has acquired trademark registrations in about 100 countries, of which the company exports sake to about 40 of these, Kato said, adding that the company also sells its sake to the Foreign Ministry, which sends them to Japanese embassies in many countries. Born Chogin is the Japanese Imperial family’s favorite.

The Born series is found in many high-end supermarkets and department stores in Japan and served in several hundreds of restaurants in Tokyo, he said.

Katoukichibee Shouten began selling Born overseas in the early 1990s and currently exports over 20 percent of its products. It can be found in restaurants in cities such as Paris and New York.

Overseas success did not come easily. As the domestic market for sake has been shrinking since peak consumption in the 1970s, sake producers had to expand the customer base outside Japan.

It was believed to be difficult to sell sake in countries where Japanese food is not readily available. Kato’s answer was to gain name recognition by winning medals in international contests.

Since 1998, the Born series has been winning prizes in contests, and since 2002, it has won medals every year.

Kato also sticks to the belief that he should develop sales channels overseas on his own, instead of relying heavily on local distributors. He takes overseas business trips about 40 times a year to establish direct relationship with customers.

Thanks to such efforts, Born has been served at numerous international events, including formal dinners at the Cannes film festival and the opening banquet for the 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea.

Nihon no Tsubasa is the official sake served on board the Japanese government aircraft used by the emperor and the prime minister. Japanese government presented a bottle of Yume wa Masayume to U.S. President Barack Obama to celebrate his election in 2008.