4 reasons why Zwack’s Unicum could become the next success story in Japan

Unicum, the national drink of Hungary, made of more than forty different herbs and spices, has always been an exciting choice for tourists visiting the country. Besides Hungary, Unicum is historically popular in Italy, where production took place from the ’70s, and also in Germany, where a strategic partner played a key role in re-establishing the brand after the end of the socialist era. Unicum also has a presence in neighbouring countries that share a similar cultural heritage and historical background.

However, anyone who is familiar with Hungary’s staple herb liqueur may find it surprising that a distant and closed market such as Japan could be their next relevant opportunity to grow the brand. Here, you can find four reasons that prove this case.

Reason 1: One of Japan’s largest alcoholic beverage distributors believes that Unicum can be a great offer for Japanese consumers

Kokubu’s history goes back to the beginning of the 18th century, and it grew to become a company that carries out $17 billion (USD) in annual sales, mostly in Japan. The major part of the company’s product portfolio includes alcoholic beverages. Kokubu added Unicum to its selection after the company recognised that the Hungarian liqueur could be an interesting choice for bars and restaurants as well as for retail customers. The unique bitter taste distinguishes the product from other beverages and has the potential to be served in a Japanese-style setting as well.

Even though there are apparent opportunities, Kokubu understands that it takes time and plenty of work to introduce a new brand in their home market. The company organises promotional events every year to build up the brand recognition of Unicum step by step.

Unicum exhibition at 2021 Supermarket Trade Show in Tokyo

Reason 2: Dedicated brand ambassadors are educating consumers

Unicum has three brand ambassadors in Tokyo and Osaka, all of whom are advocates of the brand and experts in their field. One of them is Hiroyasu Kayama, who is among the greatest bartenders in Japan and is the owner of BenFiddich, a bar which ranked at no. 40 in the world’s top 100 bars this year. Mr. Kayama actively promotes the liqueur on social network sites as well. For example, one of his unique Unicum cocktail recipes was viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube, which grabbed the attention of international audiences as well.

Unicum ambassador Hiroyasu Kayama

Reason 3: Unicum is already widely available in the country

Unicum can be found on the shelves of hundreds of retail stores. It is still a small portion of the Japanese market, but consumers who have a specific interest are able to make an offline purchase. Unicum can also be enjoyed at many bars, as it is becoming an increasingly popular cocktail element.

Unicum is being sold at Yamaya stores

Reason 4: Zwack operates together with a local support team that keeps the ball rolling

Even with the best possible partners, it is difficult for an overseas brand to achieve success in Japan without having local representation. The Hungarian team at TOO International assures from the start that Kokubu, its ambassadors and its other stakeholders in Japan receive all the strategic, marketing and operational support that is necessary to work with a new foreign brand.

Unicum’s journey in Japan may look promising, but international competition in the alcoholic beverage sector is fierce. Are we going to hear more news on Unicum’s success in the country, or is this just a short-term endeavour? The next few years will likely show a clear answer.