#20 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“Don’t buy it if it’s too expensive”
I once put an ad on the full page of a newspaper with a large ad saying: “Please. Don't buy it if it’s too expensive.” Underneath it, I listed up all the retail stores who deal directly with us for Dassai. The ad was in 2017, but long before that, I had noticed that Dassai sake were being sold in supermarkets and other places for 2 to 3 times the suggested retail price. Apparently, some companies were buying our sake and selling them at higher prices. And they were selling it in such a way that it was obvious they didn't care at all the quality of the sake would deteriorate. When I asked the Fair Trade Commission about it, they said I couldn't complain about them selling my sake at a high price. After all, it was mainly because there was an imbalance in terms of supply and demand, so I had no choice but to increase the supply. The production capacity was roughly of 16,000 koku (1 koku is a unit of measure of the production output which is about 180 liters). I tried to increase the production even more, but there was not enough of Yamada Nishiki rice.
Just when I was desperate for more, a supplier from Wakayama Prefecture told me he had 4,000 bales of Yamada-Nishiki available (one bale weighs about 60 kilograms). I bought it right away. Then one of my staff at my rice polishing plant told me that the rice they brought up had “Yamada-Nishiki” written on the invoice, but not on the rice bag itself. “The rice itself doesn’t look bad, what should we do?” he told me. Because it’s written on the invoice, it sure was Yamada-Nishiki –probably of a lesser grade- but if it’s not written on the rice bag, it means it does not come from a proper supply channel. That was not good, I told him to return it back immediately. The vendor was trying to sell a lesser-grade Yamada Nishiki, from which he selected the best he had probably, and sell it as a usual grade one. Because it was a huge order of 4,000 bales of rice, they probably thought we would not return it. The fact is we were in need of rice, so I really thought about keeping it. But if I started dealing with these kind of suppliers, I’d only get a bad result. In fact, I'm glad I returned it.
This kind of lesser-grade rice always comes with every harvest, about 10% of the overall harvest. I think a good portion of it is sold on the black market. So we started to put up some figures, to try and to somehow pay back the farmers who always have to deal with this 10% of lesser-grade rice. Eventually, we decided to use this lesser-grade Yamada Nishiki to craft a specific sake called “Dassai Togai” (“Togai” meaning downgraded, lesser-grade), and15 years passed since then. Even if the rice is of lesser-grade, it's Yamada-Nishiki rice so it's not that bad. However, the grains are not uniform, so the rice has to be polished 10% more than usual for it to be used as good grade rice.
There is another flaw: sake made with this kind of rice deteriorates faster than normal sake. So we decided to serve this “Dassai Togai” at the Watami Group's izakayas. We had been doing business with Watami for the past year or two. When I told them I wanted them I had something in mind, all the store managers and sales representatives of the group got together. This professionalism made me trust them, I knew that with the sales force of a big chain restaurant company like Watami, they would sell enough of this sake before it could deteriorate. There were pros and cons, but “Dassai Togai” actually helped “Dassai” get a better overall coverage on the market.