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Local awamori company scores big with exports

Date Posted: 2004-10-28

The smooth influence of Okinawa’s local liquor, awamori, has moved halfway around the world to Paris.

Kumesen, distilled on Kume Jima, is breaking into the European market beginning in December, a result of its efforts at the 2004 Paris International Food Fair. Japanese restaurant owners in the French capital turned out to look, and to taste: “Wow, it’s good!” said Bizan Restaurant’s owner, who was looking for new sake to serve his customers.

French three-star restaurant chefs turned out for the Fair, and professed Okinawa fare to be “Oh, so very good.”

Bizan, located near the Opera Theatre in Paris, is opening a second location in December, featuring Japanese cuisine. The challenge is working with the alcohol taxes, which are higher than in Japan. Kumensen Sales Manager Seigo Uejo says “It’s difficult to enter the European market for Japanese because of the high taxes, while the Japanese market is still too small. At the same time, Europeans are loving Japanese food and want to try some sake too.” Uejo says the time is right to break into the European market.

He offered the Bizan an Okinawa menu, which he says is being favorably received.

Kumesen has been exporting awamori to Singapore, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, but Paris is a first. The company’s also been offering other Okinawa foods, including natural ocean salts, brown sugar cakes and cosmetics.

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