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For Goodness’ Saké

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Ken Chan, Business Development Manager / Saké Specialist, Jebsen Fine Wines

It is an ordinary weekday. I am in Japan drinking saké. I am working, but I might as well be on holiday. I take in every nuance of each saké — each one has its own flavour and personality, two important things that determine how connoisseurs back in Hong Kong will receive the product.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to combine their passion with their work. That is why as Business Development Manager at Jebsen Beverage, I consider myself fortunate that I can pursue my passion for wine and spirits and travel regularly to my favourite country, Japan.

This sounds idyllic, but it is still work, especially since I wear three hats at once. Aside from business development, I am also responsible for sales and marketing. This requires that I continue learning and engage in areas like marketing and education. To develop new business, I also have to expand my social network. My work is never finished, in other words — and that’s a good thing!

I joined Jebsen Fine Wines in 2014 when saké was a newly introduced product category. Before that, I studied in Japan, learned Japanese, and obtained a saké specialist (International Kikisake-shi) qualification. These proved advantageous in my current work when solving challenges. One of our first challenges was growing our product portfolio, which started with 30 SKUs from four breweries.

We needed to introduce consumers to new saké brands while choosing only ones that meet the high expectations of the company and our clients. This meant letting go of some brand SKUs and distributing only one saké brand from one county. Our focus on quality increased the value of each product and helped build our trust among principals and customers.

One of the best parts of my job is customer research. I regularly get to try out different brands and find those that suit the diverse tastes of the local market. Aside from quality, I had to make sure that the products have Chinese Han characters. Think about a brand with unfamiliar Japanese characters — will they stay in our mind for long? Careful brand selection not only ensures that our products are top-notch, it also makes them easier to remember, so they sell better.

I am happy to say that our hard work has paid off immensely. Today, our portfolio has grown to nine breweries and over 50 SKUs. I continue to practice the strategies I used to expand this business while improving them steadily to achieve even better results.

As I work with a diverse range of saké brands, I am often asked which one resembles my work the most. I don't play favourites, but if I must choose, it would be SENKIN (仙禽), because I see similarities between the brand and me. Its previous brewer is a sommelier who incorporated a lot of winemaking elements into his brand. I share his affinity for wine, as I have a deep appreciation for it and a wine-tasting licence (which are unknown even to some of my colleagues!), in addition to my work in the saké industry. Moreover, I relate to the brewer's hard work because we both spent enormous effort in developing a wide range of products in terms of variety and quality. Just like the brewer who combined tradition with a new way of seeing things, I also integrate new things that I learn at work every day with my years of industry experience in business development, marketing, and sales.

Kanpai, for our continuous endeavour to excellence!

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