Posted on | March 27, 2014
Written by | W.R. Tish
Among the shifting patterns of adult beverages in America these days, one thread ties them together: a sense of adventure. People are seeking new drinks, and new ways to drink—experimenting more freely. Brewed like a beer but enjoyed like a wine, sake is built for discovery. And within the category, TY KU is uniquely positioned to take on a leadership role, thanks to its solid distribution, distinctive packaging and a one-two punch of quality and authenticity in the bottle.
“The state of sake awareness in the U.S. is definitely on the rise,” says Adrian Molina, Brand Communications Manager for TY KU Sake & Spirits. He considers sake a “familiar mystery” for many Americans, whose exposure to the beverage historically starts (and stays) at Asian fusion restaurants. But Molina now sees sake rippling out across gastropubs, chain stores and even seafood restaurants—and receiving a broader embrace, especially among Millennials. Add to this the Japanese government’s recent announcement that they plan to put more marketing muscle behind sake in the U.S. and the stage is being set for expanded usage and sales.
TY KU is framing on-premise as a “huge opportunity,” according to Molina. Sake naturally contains 20 amino acids (more than any other alcoholic beverage), which help neutralize the overly fishy flavors in seafood, creating the perfect alternative to standard wine and food pairings. The amino acids also give saké its strong umami character—the so-called fifth taste (often referred to as meaty or savory). In addition to fish, sake also plays nicely with grilled meats, spicy foods, finger foods and even vegetables like asparagus.
Traditionally sake is served chilled straight in small ceramic cups called ochoko. TY KU also encourages enjoying the beverage chilled and straight; however, “we ask our accounts to serve sake in a wine glass,” Molina adds. This has the effect of easing the intimidation factor for some diners.
TY KU’s sake portfolio is also 100% gluten-free, making it an ideal beverage for the growing number of people on gluten-free diets. These opportunities also translate well to the off-premise for progressive “at home foodies,” notes Molina, whether people are replicating the pairings of a favorite restaurant or adding a new dimension to a home bar.
Elevating the Basics
In recent years, TY KU’s market presence has been spearheaded by eye-catching packaging and a dash of celebrity panache, thanks especially to R & B artist Cee Lo Green, a part-owner of the brand. The sleek bottles continue to stand out on shelves and in displays. Starting in 2014, however, while Cee Lo is still squarely on board, the marketing emphasis is shifting toward the liquid itself. And there will be more focus on culinary partners like Ming Tsai, in order to better educate consumers on TY KU’s benefits and versatility.
That versatility stretches from the dining room to the bar, where the brand’s range of styles provides inspiration. “Seeing mixologists incorporate our Junmai level TY KU Sake Silver in a sangria, expressly to boost the umami, is very flattering,” says Molina.
Moving forward, as TY KU aims to gain even more momentum, authenticity comes into play. “Most consumers don’t realize that over 75% of the sake consumed in the United States is brewed in the United States,” notes Molina. “TY KU is brewed in the birthplace of sake: Nara, Japan.” The brewery sources all of TY KU’s ingredients locally, and controls production from grain (rice) to glass.
Education remains an imperative as well. TY KU’s awareness of the American mindset is evident, via the succinct verbiage on the packaging as well as the website (trytyku.com), where the sake information is thorough and accessible. “We strive to be the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the sake category in an effort to have even the most casual of consumer drinking fluently,” says Molina.