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Assured UK Malt

Accredited Malt Maltsters Association of Great Britain

Case Study - Adnams

AUKM certify Accredited Malt


Quality Critical to Japanese Number One Distiller

With a history in alcohol production going back over 100 years, Japanese brewer and distiller Suntory has a strong heritage as well as a clear commitment to the quality of its products. Founded in 1899, the company originally sold sweet port wine and it was not until 1923 that it built its first distillery at Yamazaki. When its White Label whisky went on sale in 1929, it became the first Japanese whisky producer. The whisky really took off after the Second World War, when it was very popular among the GIs based in Japan.


Today, Suntory is a multi-national company involved in many other markets as well as brewing, distilling and wine production. It is the fourth largest brewer in the Japanese market, and this represents a sizable production volume of nearly seven million hectolitres, making it an important part of its business. Not only was it the first company to produce whisky in Japan, but it remains the leading Japanese producer, with around 70 per cent of the market.

Sales in the whisky market were driven during the boom years of Japanese business by corporate entertainment. Whisky was the chosen drink for company entertainment after business dinners. Despite changing consumer tastes, whisky remains an important part of Suntory’s production and today it is produced from two distilleries at Yamazaki and Hakushu, its second distillery founded in 1973.

As with all Japanese brewers and distillers, quality is a key consideration for Suntory. Its website emphasises this point, drawing attention to the quality of its water, which is, of course, a key ingredient in its beer and whisky, as well as explaining how its internal Quality Assurance Committee and ‘Quality for All’ policy works throughout the company.  


Mr. Kambe, General Manager of Suntory in the UK, with specific responsibility for procurement says: “For Japanese consumers, quality is an important consideration, as well as where the ingredients come from. This is why we put so much emphasis on the quality of ingredients, our procedures, and the provenance of our products on our website. In recent times there have been considerable concerns about the traceability of some of the foods coming in from other countries such as China, and this has made the consumer even more sensitive on this subject.”

In Japan it has been the concerns of producers, such as Suntory, and consumers, rather than the retailers, which has been driving the need for greater quality and traceability. Between its brewing and distilling operations, Suntory uses some 75,000 tonnes of malt every year and companies in the Assured UK Malt (AUKM) scheme are among the suppliers to the company.

Mr. Kambe says: “The AUKM scheme has a number of advantages for us. It gives a guaranteed level of quality, which our quality assurance people find extremely useful. There is a high degree of traceability, and it covers all aspects of the supply chain. AUKM’s links with on-farm assurance are unique in our experience.


“As with all our suppliers, we have to conduct our own checks even with maltsters in the AUKM scheme. However, it would be extremely helpful to us if more countries had similar schemes.”

Given the list of Suntory’s international interests, it is clear that quality and brand values go hand in hand. As well as its whisky and beer business, it operates vineyards in Japan, and in 1983 acquired Château Lagrange in the Bordeaux region of France. It also bottles Pepsi Cola, both in Japan and in the United States.

“We appreciate the quality of ingredients supplied by companies involved in the AUKM scheme. It is this quality of supply and the flexibility to keep updating the scheme, particularly with regard to Japanese regulations, that we find so useful”, says Mr. Kambe. “Suntory has established major brands in the Japanese beer and whisky markets, and it is important to maintain our brand heritage. Having the right ingredients with traceability and quality is critical to maintaining those brands”

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