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Beer tops alcohol imports for first time

Beer was the most imported type of alcoholic beverage in Korea this year, data showed Tuesday. 

This was the first time that imports of beer topped imports of other drinks such as wine and whisky. 

According to the Korea International Trade Association’s data information system, Korea imported $143.92 million worth of beer from January to July this year, marking a 50.5 percent rise from the same period last year. 

Imports of wine during the same period reached $111.46 million, while that of whisky reached $80.26 million.

The continuing rise in beer imports correlates with a shift in the way that Koreans are consuming alcohol. Rather than hard liquor and spirits, more consumers are opting for lighter drinks that they can enjoy by themselves at home rather than at big social gatherings.

Companies are working to harness this trend to fuel sales in stronger and more expensive drinks such as whisky and champagne.

Diageo Korea created small bottle packaging for its Johnnie Walker line of whisky to be sold at convenience stores, targeting young single-member households. The whisky was sold with lemon syrup to encourage drinkers to enjoy the whisky in cocktails, reflecting a “shift in the way consumers drink,” according to an official with the company. 

A consumer shops for imported beer at a discount retailer in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
A consumer shops for imported beer at a discount retailer in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

According to Diageo, sales of Johnnie Walker rose 19 percent between July 2016 and June 2017, while the overall imported whisky market grew by 2.9 percent.

Hite Jinro, a stronghold in domestic beer and soju, said Tuesday that it is expanding the channels through which it offers the luxury champagne Taittinger. In addition to restaurants and department stores, Hite Jinro is “strengthening brand marketing in celebrity hot spots such as clubs, bars and five-star hotels” including Club Octagon.

However, it is uncertain whether these efforts will help to mitigate the strong lurch in consumer preferences toward beer.

“The past couple of years have shown that consumers’ taste for drinks with low alcohol content and easily accessible beer is more than just a fad,” said an official with one liquor company. 

“As people become more health conscious, the shift away from strong drinks and toward lighter beverages like beer is likely to continue.” 

By Won Ho-jung (