Suntory seeking to catch up with global demand for Yamazaki whisky

Suntory seeking to catch up with global demand for Yamazaki whisky

Resurgent demand for Japanese whisky has taken distillers by surprise, forcing Suntory Holdings to ration supplies of its Yamazaki single malt.

Suntory is rationing supplies of Yamazaki in markets around the world, including the UK and France, as it seeks to catch up with consumer thirst for the Japanese single malt.

Up until a couple of years ago, Japan's distillers had faced pressure from declining domestic demand, while their whiskies were still little-known abroad. Between 1998 and 2008, domestic sales of Japanese whisky fell from 11.7m nine-litre cases to just 6.85m cases, according to figures published last year in a joint report by just-drinks and IWSR.

However, young Japanese consumers have rediscovered whisky in cocktails such as the 'Highball', a whisky and soda water mix once popular in the 1960s. Meanwhile, international interest in high-end Japanese whisky has also grown.

Speaking to just-drinks, the general manager of Suntory's whisky business, Takahiro Itoge, said: "Over the last three years, the whisky trend has come back in Japan and, at the same time, we have been winning awards globally. So, demand has increased."

Suntory sells 6m cases of whisky annually, although only 12% of this is exported, according to the company. Its Yamazaki 12 Year Old single malt has led the group's push into overseas markets, with Hibiki blended whisky also launched in Europe and the US last year.

"Just because there's an increase in demand right now doesn't mean that we can catch up right away," Itoge said at a Japanese whisky and food tasting in London last night (13 June). "However, we are now taking this into account and are executing allocation plans that will make sure we are able to catch up," he added.

Suntory said that it does not expect to run out of Yamazaki in the UK, although it has withdrawn the whisky from all multiple retailers except Waitrose. It is also sold in specialist whisky outlets and in the on-trade. From 2012, the group expects that extra supplies will ease the squeeze on Yamazaki globally.