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Premium water makes bigger splash in market

Diversified products appeal to consumers’ taste for luxury

Seoul resident Park Byoung-shik makes a habit of frequenting stores once or twice a week to scout out the latest offerings of premium bottled water.

“I don’t tend to drink carbonated water, so today I am trying out Irosoo ― water extracted directly from birch trees,” the 32-year-old said at the Shinsegae Gangnam Department Store on Wednesday.

The domestic bottled water industry recorded sales about 550 billion won ($486.75 million) last year, and “premium” products especially, such as Irosoo, are gaining traction in the domestic market, said Kim Suk-jin, an official from the domestic food and drink business Lotte Chilsung. 
Consumers make a selection from an array of premium bottled water products at a store in Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Consumers make a selection from an array of premium bottled water products at a store in Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Imported bottled water is especially popular among consumers these days, according to Kim. He said the sector saw its compound annual growth rate rise 43.3 percent over the past three years.

Premium bottled water appeals to customers for a variety of reasons, said Lee Young-sun, the manager at Shinsegae Gangnam Department Store’s Water Bar.

The store, which has three locations across Korea, sells domestic as well as imported premium water from about 13 countries, including Italy, France, England and Canada, Lee said.

One appealing aspect of premium bottled water lies in the sheer variety of products, according to Lee.

“We sell mineral water, glacial water, carbonated water, oxygenated water (and more),” Lee said.

While from a cost perspective, consumers choose domestically-produced items, she affirmed that the trend these days is leaning towards imported bottled water.

Top sellers include imported carbonated water products such as Perrier, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner, according to Lee, with carbonated water gaining more popularity during this summer season.

Imported mineral water products such as Evian, Volvic and FIJI water tend to retain their popularity regardless of season, she said.

Premium water prices start from around 3,000 won to the mid-20,000 won range per bottle, but some products can be even more costly, according to Lee.

One of the most expensive products on the market is the American high-end bottled water Bling H20. A 500 ml bottle costs close to 80,000 won domestically and is usually sold in a frosted glass bottle with Swarovski crystals embedded in the design.

Premium bottled water is also marketed as having health benefits.

“For example, carbonated water or alkaline water can help people who suffer from a sluggish metabolism, and active gym-goers can drink oxygenated water, which helps replenish oxygen levels lost during a workout,” Lee said.

The concept of finding the “right fit” is important for consumers these days as well, she said.

These premium bottled water products are still regarded by most customers as a special treat, and not as a daily source of hydration, Lee said.

Seoul-based taxi driver Shin Choung-houn agreed. “The public perception is that they are health products, so people feel that if they drink these premium products, they are getting healthier,” he said.

He tends to drink water that costs less than 1,000 won per bottle, and said that he thinks the real differences lie in marketing, packaging and design.

“From my personal viewpoint, I think it’s all basically the same water. So they’re a little burdensome for the average person to drink (on a daily basis),” Shin said.

By Renee Park  (

Intern reporter Lee Jin-yung contributed to this report.
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