“Moving from those first safe harbours into less-developed markets was not the most normal progression by us,” said Sam Ng, the Victoria distiller’s brand ambassador, from Tokyo, where he has been promoting Four Pillars to the trade and consumers.
“It’s unusual here because it does have a strong craft cocktail scene, but it’s so deeply entrenched in its own spirits. They’re so fiercely proud of what they make here.”
The new patch is timely for Four Pillars, and is now one of nine markets it operates in, which also include Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines and the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. Jakarta is next on the cards.
Ng’s presence in Japan’s capital is timely because the Rugby World Cup kicks off in there in September and continues across Japan for the following six weeks. Next year, Tokyo will also host the Summer Olympics. Not only is the country opening up to an invasion of sports fans, it is also beginning to warm to international flavours and brands.
“They may have their own incredible craft spirits, but I think Tokyo is starting to look outwards more than it has done before. With the World Cup later this year and the Olympics next year, I really think Japan and craft spirits is going to be an exciting place,” said Ng.
The language barrier is possibly the hardest thing he and his fellow Australian colleagues have had to face during this expansion, which is being masterminded from his newly installed Singapore base. But the move into these new countries has been a rush for Ng, not least because it is showing how Asian markets have been starting to develop in the craft spirits business.
Though the lion’s share of Four Pillars’s distribution—anticipated to amount to as many as 45,000 cases next year—stays at home, its Asian markets are catching up, albeit from a small base.
After Britain, Singapore is the distillery’s third biggest market, with its lively expat scene and wealthy consumers who are happy to pay a premium for fine liquor. On the whole, though, the region is currently only receiving 1,500 cases, equal to its global duty free sales. This number is set to grow.
“Asia is very different to Australia and the UK. It’s not the same kind of people, it’s not got the same kind of drinking regime, the same kind of reaction or the same kind of approach to marketing and engagement either,” Ng said.
It’s more about making things simple, easy and approachable for people in Asia. Asians like their marketing, but they also like a good drink. Keeping things simpler is the team’s philosophy, and that goes as far as communication in places like Tokyo, where English-speaking partners are like hens’ teeth.
“Luckily, you don’t need to go to great lengths to describe something if the product is good. You can just put a gin and tonic or a cocktail in front of someone and say, ‘try it’! Luckily, the language of taste is not inhibited by language barriers, I’ve found,” Ng added.