Sake Tricks - Packaging That Sells Sake
Branding, logos, packaging, etc are all efforts to distinguish specific sakes from their thousands of competitors. People know sakes by these packages. For example the Narutotai nama can, or the Tenzan leaf sheathed bottle, or the Urakasumi Honjozo in gold foil, or Kirin-Zan blue round bottle are all efforts to separate themselves from the pack.
As retailers we know it works! Period. I cannot speak for restaurants, but when customers walk around a store packaging sells. Second Period! You can watch their eyes as they spy "cutely" shaped bottles, or bottles of unusual color. It never fails. Some breweries strive to play the different bottle game and I must say it is a game changer. Take Bunraku for example. I don't even know if this brewery offers a "regular" bottle as their 300mls are famous for their Genie-bottle-like shape.
Oddly customers are also skeptical about oddly or distinctively shaped bottles, and always ask, "Great bottle but is the sake any good?" I always have to remind them that we don't care what is on the outside of a bottle - we only focus on what is on the inside. That said there have been some sneaky efforts over the years. And it seems that there is a drive to mask mediocre sake with funky and eye catching packaging. One brew that has been available in the US for years has a bottle shaped like a rocket or squid or who knows! It is work of art. Well not really! But I do know the sake blows!
I personally know owners of breweries who have made it a point to change their packaging to develop a brand. It's important. And some young owners have used packaging as their hallmark "move" in becoming a new owner. They use it as a platform to distinguish themselves from their fathers. Sometimes the move works and some times it doesn't. Yes there are young owners who have been removed from the business for making too much of a change, or perhaps spending too much in the process.
Branding and packaging is extremely important in Japan and this has carried over into the sake industry for certain. Again, as a retailer we get to see the results on the floor. We get to see the eyes focus on certain bottles. We see hands reach for certain sakes that call to the quick buy consumer, especially the gift giver. I personally like good packaging for this reason. When distributors and importers show us new offerings we certainly consider packaging when making our decision to place in our inventory. Selling sake is a hand-selling process, and unlike wine you need to talk about each bottle. In the wine world people generally know what they are looking for, but in the sake retail world this is not the case. You must hand sell each sake, and that is why packaging becomes such a good partner in this process.
Lastly, and I call this perspective about packaging the "baby syndrome." Each sake made is a lovingly made sake, especially when speaking about "jizake" or micro-brewery sakes. And as such owners of breweries want to see their "babies" packaged well. As they send their babies out into the world they want the brand, the label, the bottle, and the packaging to mean something. In a word it is an expression of the brewery, and the better looking that expression or the more identified that expression is the more sake they sell!