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As Sake Sales Boom, High-End Hiro Ramps Up Presence

July 2, 2012

Sake consumption continues to surge in the U.S. market. Category depletions advanced by 12% in 2010, and last year’s shipments jumped by 19% to 2.55 million cases, according to Impact Databank. While competitively-priced domestic offerings like market leader Sho Chiku Bai (whose core Nigori entry sells for $7.99 a 750-ml.) and Sidney Frank Importing Co.’s Gekkeikan (whose leading Haiku edition sells for $13.99 a 720-ml.) comprise the lion’s share of the fast-rising U.S. sake market, the higher-end import segment is also achieving double-digit gains.

In 2011, imported sake shipments grew by 12% to approximately 470,000 cases, accounting for 19% of overall category sales. While none of the imported offerings have yet amassed the scale of their domestic counterparts, a potent mix of established players and emerging upstarts is making high-end sake a segment to watch.

One promising new entrant is Hiro sake. Launched in the New York metro area last September, Hiro says robust early sales have led it to seek a wider footprint. Hiro has appointed Monsieur Touton Selections as its exclusive U.S. distributor, and plans to gradually expand via Touton’s access to bars, restaurants and retail stores in nine states—New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

“We’re going to continue pushing in New York,” says Hiro’s CEO and co-founder Carlos Arana, who’s the former managing director of Jose Cuervo International. “We’ll see how that goes for the first few months. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. But we think that Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. are an absolute must.”

Hiro, which previously was with Genesis Beverage Brands, has a lineup that includes Hiro Red ($29.99 a 720-ml.), traditionally brewed to be served warm, and Hiro Blue ($39.99 a 720-ml.), served best straight or mixed in a cocktail. The brand has a stronger presence in the off-premise, where sales have enjoyed a boost due to New Yorkers’ penchant for Japanese takeout, according to Arana.

“One of the things that will be critical for the on-premise as we move forward is to have the house-size (330-ml.) bottles,” Arana said. “A lot of restaurants have asked us for that size because it’s much easier for consumers to order.”

 

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