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Japanese sake brewing startup Wakaze announced today that it has secured 150 million yen (about $1.4 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors are Spiral Ventures、Nissay Capital, Nakashimato (the family office of Japanese mayonnaise maker Kewpie’s founder family) as well as four angel investors: Yo Nagami (CFO, Raksul), Takashi Mitachi (Senior Advisor, Boston Consulting Group), Takashi Nagao (Pro Commit Partners Law Office), and an unnamed person.
The latest round is the first funding opportunity from investors for Wakaze since the company has been running on a bootstrap mode to date. They will use the funds to set up a brewery in the Greater Paris Area to develop original Japanese sake brands, aiming to sell them to France and other European countries as well as the Japanese market. They also succeeded in raising funds in the recent crowdfunding campaign on Makuake, especially for garnering fan support for the European expansion.
Wakaze was founded by CEO Takuma Inagawa who was previously granted by the French government as a scholarship student to study at École Centrale Paris followed by working at Boston Consulting Group as a management strategy consultant. In contrast with typical breweries developing a new brand in a year at best, the Tokyo startup can do it on a weekly basis through a Lean Startup attitude for product development. The production on a certain scale is usually made in their brewery in Yamagata, three hours north of Tokyo by bullet train, while new product development efforts are mainly conducted in a small brewery in central Tokyo which is attached to their casual restaurant.
Wakaze’s Japanese sake line-up
Image credit: Wakaze
Inspired by the trend of craft beers, the company aims to set off the waves of craft products or the direct-to-consumer model in the Japanese sake industry. Expanding into the European market where demand for Japanese sake is increasing, they plan to brew affordable but high-quality products to serve them to local consumers. Shoma Imai will be appointed as the sake brewer chief for the Paris brewery which is expected to start operations this summer. Born and raised as a son of the family of a sake brewing factory, Imai graduated from the agricultural school of the University of Tokyo and then worked for Oisix, the Japanese food distribution company that directly delivers foods from farms to home kitchens.
According to Inagawa, in Europe, wine consumption is declining while new categories of liquor, especially the market of Japanese sake, are expanding. Nowadays it’s less uncommon for Japanese sake being served not only at Japanese-style restaurants but also at general ones. However the issue here is pricing. Since many of Japanese sake products are imported from Japan, a glass of them at the restaurant usually costs more than 10 euros due to customs duties. If it can be served for around 5 euros as much as offering a glass of wine at bistros, it would accelerate helping people adopt more Japanese sake. Wakaze wants to make it possible by local production and direct distribution models.
It is also interesting that Nakajimato has participated in this round. In addition to owning a wine factory in France through their local subsidiary, the company has been dealing with many restaurants there, which is expected to greatly contribute to Wakaze’s effort cultivating sales channels in the world’s culinary capital.