There was a time, in the early naughties, when Japanese consumers rushed en masse to wine shops and events in late November to snap up bottles of the hugely hyped Beaujolais Nouveau. Due to a number of factors, sales began to slide toward the latter half of the decade, and the young French wine is now going through a bit of a crisis in Japan. Can a combination of cut-throat prices, cheaper bottles and clever marketing save it from the wastebin of also-rans?
Your average bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau used to cost around ¥2,000 to ¥3,000, but falling sales have sparked a price war. At the front lines of the battle is retail giant Aeon, who own Jusco, Saty and MaxValu. The company will be offering a 375 ml half bottle of Philippe de Mery Beaujolais for the low “one coin” price of ¥500.
A new contender to become top dispenser of cheap Beaujolais is Don Quijote. The discount chain, known for its bargains, is announcing its wine prices tonight, the eve before it goes on sale in Japan. It’s bound to be competitive, as last year’s full-size bottle cost just ¥880. This year, Donki is also throwing in a free pink scrunchie to sweeten the deal.
One of the reasons companies can afford to offer cheaper prices is the strong yen; another is the use of PET bottles. The plastic alternative to traditional glass is much lighter and therefore cheaper to import. Beaujolais Nouveau is imported by plane to allow the wine to be released in Japan at the same time as France, therefore weight is a key issue in bottle price.
Brands have also been experimenting with tie-ups to help bolster sales. Sapporo is selling Labouré Roi, a Beaujolais Nouveau made in collaboration with fashion brand Tommorowland and targeted at the female market. For the kawaii market there’s Hello Kitty Beaujolais Nouveau which has been popular for several years. Another cartoon collaboration is Mercian’s Beaujolais Nouveau, endorsed by popular wine manga “Kami no Shizuku” since 2006. The brother and sister writing team of “Kami no Shizuku” are renowned in the Japanese wine world for their discerning palates and refusal to put their name to anything they don’t personally enjoy, so my bet is that their Beaujolais is a bit tastier than the Kitty-chan or Tommorowland offerings.
At the crack of midnight, on Nov. 18, this year’s shipment of the fresh fruity wine goes on sale in Japan, it’ll be interesting to see whether cheap prices and cheerful labels will be able lift the beleaguered French wine out of the gutter.