Sake ice cream finds sweet spot in Asia

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kuniko Nakamura, foreground, and her husband Akihiro make Dassai sakekasu ice cream in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

HAKODATE, Hokkaido — Ice cream made with sake lees from one of the nation’s most popular sake brands is satisfying cravings among Chinese ice cream lovers.

The ice cream made with Dassai sakekasu, a brewing byproduct, was first handmade by Fujireika, a small, long-established ice cream shop in Hakodate, Hokkaido. But the couple who run the shop decided to outsource the production to another factory at the suggestion of Dassai maker Asahi Shuzo Co. in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. They could also take advantage of the brewery’s overseas sales channels.

While sales have been declining due to the spread of the coronavirus, a proactive approach toward overseas markets has been successful.

The Dassai brand itself is very popular overseas, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even chose the sake as a gift for foreign dignitaries.

Akihiro Nakamura, 74, and his wife Kuniko, 70, who run the shop founded in 1947, developed Dassai sakekasu ice cream about 10 years ago.

After purchasing Dassai sake lees online and producing the ice cream by way of trial and error, they were able to create one with the unique flavor of Dassai, with a gentle aroma of sake that disappears quickly.

They sent a sample to Asahi Shuzo, which praised it as very delicious and said, “It should be commercialized using the Dassai logo.”

Fujireika now sells the ice cream at its own store and ships it to sushi restaurants in Hakodate that have adopted it for their course menus. Asahi Shuzo also started selling the product at its own store in the Ginza district of Tokyo.

Yet, when tourism was hit by the coronavirus pandemic and restaurant sales declined, sales of Fujireika products, including the sake lees ice cream, fell by half.

A Chinese woman who works as a manager of Asahi Shuzo’s store in Ginza saved Fujireika from this financial predicament.

Around February, she asked Fujireika to increase production of the ice cream. When Nakamura and his wife were concerned about increasing production, she persuaded them by saying: “We can make effective use of sake lees and reduce the amount of food wasted. The ice cream will be popular in China.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Dassai sake ice cream products

Around August, Fujireika outsourced the production to a different company’s factory in Hokkaido where mass production was possible. It started exporting the product to China in October.

In the same month, they delivered 20,000 units to high-end Japanese restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai and received total orders of 336,000 units for November and December. They have also received inquiries from Macau, Singapore and Vietnam.

The Nakamuras are surprised that their ice cream — which they made on a whim — has been so well-received overseas.

“While many people are unable to come to Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, the demand from overseas is increasing. We would like to think about further expanding our sales channels,” Shohei Yamane, director of Asahi Shuzo’s International Strategy Department, said.

Dassai sakekasu ice cream is also available online for ¥350 per cup.