The Korea Herald


Chinese beer imports make strong comeback

Consumer sentiment thaws toward China, Japan

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Nov. 30, 2022 - 18:18

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Chinese brands, including bestseller Tsingtao, topped import beer sales in South Korea in October, outpacing their Dutch rivals. (Tsingtao) Chinese brands, including bestseller Tsingtao, topped import beer sales in South Korea in October, outpacing their Dutch rivals. (Tsingtao)

Among imported beers, Chinese brands were imported the most to South Korea according to data on Tuesday -- successfully reclaiming the top position after weathering dwindling profitability for years due to a nationwide reluctance to use Chinese products during the pandemic.

According to data from the Korea Customs Service, $31.16 million of Chinese beer was imported into the country in October -- the highest total for imported beer from one country for the month.

The data shows a drastic recovery from 2020, when the pandemic hit the nation the hardest and left many here reluctant to purchase Chinese products.

Chinese beer imports in February 2020 had amounted to $1.3 million, down 32.7 percent from the same period the year before, according to data from the Korea Trade Statistics Promotion.

The recovery in beer imported from China follows the coronavirus pandemic reaching its endemic phase and the consequently eased anxiety toward Chinese products.

In addition to the strong comeback of Chinese beer, the amount of imported Japanese beer also saw a resurgence this year, following an extended campaign to boycott Japanese products and services, fueled by Japan’s export curbs on key high-tech materials crucial for South Korean tech firms, which cut deeply into the imports of Japanese beers.

Japanese beer imports peaked at $78.3 million in 2018 and plunged to $5.66 million in 2020, suffering the effects of the popular boycott efforts.

However, Japanese beer imports amounted to about $11.56 million this year, up 107 percent from the same period last year.

The recent recovery of Japanese beer imports follows the lifting of social distancing and subsiding sentiment to boycott Japanese products, as, according to a report jointly released by Korean think tank East Asia Institute and Japan-based Genron NPO in September, 30.6 percent of Koreans said they feel favorable toward Japan, the second-highest score since the survey was first carried out in 2013. The highest was 31.7 percent recorded in 2019.

Meanwhile, contrary to the growing imports of beer from China and Japan, overall beer imports have been steadily decreasing recently. Last year total beer imports amounted to $223.1 million, down 1.7 percent from the previous year. This marked the lowest recorded amount in five years, since some $181.56 million in 2016.

The recent drop in beer imports is attributed to trends favoring alcoholic beverages other than beer, such as wine and whiskey.

Last year, wine imports amounted to $506 million, up 53 percent from 2020 at $330 million.

The drop in beer imports is further attributed to the growth of the domestic craft beer market.

According to the Korea Craftbrewers Association, sales of domestic handmade beer companies amounted to 152 billion won ($115 million) last year. The figure is up nearly 30 percent from 118 billion won a year earlier, and grew nearly 10 times over since 2014.

The growth of the domestic craft beer market follows the revision of the 2020 liquor tax law, which lowered the production cost of handmade beer.