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Chicken joints brewing beer to complete chimaek appeal

A product image for Chimac canned craft beer made by Kyochon F&B (Kyochon F&B)
A product image for Chimac canned craft beer made by Kyochon F&B (Kyochon F&B)
Fried chicken and beer -- known locally as “chimaek” -- is a food pair beloved by many Koreans.   

In a new development in South Korean chimaek scene, major chicken brands are coming up with their own beer brands, in order to give this popular food combo a special appeal. 

KFC confirmed Monday to The Korea Herald that it was preparing to launch its own craft beer. 

The US fried chicken franchise has formed a partnership with independent brewery Kabrew, and is developing its own brand of IPA, it said, although the exact timing of the launch remains undecided. 

Kyochon F&B, South Korea’s largest fried chicken brand by market share, was the first to enter the beer making business. The company acquired craft beer company MoonBear Brewing in May this year and launched the aptly named Kyochon Chimac. 

With the brand’s expansion into the beverages business, Kyochon said its operating profits grew 15 percent on-year in the third quarter this year. 

Another major chicken franchise, BBQ also teamed up with Micro Brewery and developed six types of craft beer under the brand’s name. 

Later in September, it partnered with Korea’s largest independent beer maker Jeju Beer and launched the canned beer “Chi-eers,” to accompany its fried chicken dishes. 

BBQ also plans to build a craft beer brewing facility in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. Once finished, it is to be capable of producing some 4.4 million liters of craft beer a year. 

Mom’s Touch, famous for its fried chicken burgers, added draft beer on the menu made by two local beer breweries at its stores in Songpa, Incheon.
A product image of Chi-eers canned beer, a collaboration between BBQ and Jeju Beer. (Jeju Beer)
A product image of Chi-eers canned beer, a collaboration between BBQ and Jeju Beer. (Jeju Beer)

Chicken franchises expanding into the beer industry follows a craft beer boom under the COVID-19 pandemic, says analysts. 

With more time spent at home, Korean consumers have ventured into exploring different flavors, tastes and styles of beer from small brewers, instead of binge-drinking on mass-produced bestsellers like Hite and Cass, they said. 

According to data from the Korea Craft Brewers Association, the market for craft beer surpassed 100 billion won ($84.9 million) last year, approximately tripling since 2018. The local market for craft beer is expected to expand even further, to 370 billion won by 2023, data showed. 

“Many Korean consumers grew a liking for high-end imported beer and craft beer while they were social distancing at home. As companies start to reopen their stores under eased pandemic protocols, companies seem to be preparing to cater to this shift in drinking trends,” said analyst Park Sang-joon from Kiwoom Securities, in a call with The Korea Herald.

The shift is also related to a change in business strategy at popular chicken franchises, industry insiders said. 

While most traditional brands were family-owned businesses before, they have since grown bigger to be managed by professional CEOs, who have sought to expand their business portfolios by adding beer to their product lineups.

“Kyochon F&B, which went public a couple of years ago, is now led by a professional CEO from Lotte Group. BHC is led by a CEO who built his career at Samsung Electronics. Chicken brands are going beyond merely increasing the number of stores and looking for new business opportunities,” said an official from a chicken franchise.

By Kang Jae-eun (kang.jaeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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