Korean consumers turning to wine

Soju, the liquor traditionally beloved by Koreans, isn't as favored as wine these days.

Sales of wine brought in $23.6 million in the first five months of the year, moving it into the No. 2 position among Korean consumer right behind beer and just ahead of soju, according to the discount giant E-Mart.

Soju is usually regarded as Korean vodka, although it is a sweeter-tasting distillation. It historically was distilled from rice or tapioca -- known as dangmil -- but sweet potatoes have become more popular in recent times. It varies in potency from about 20% to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV), with 20% ABV being most common. In common U.S. parlance, that's about 40 proof.

The statistical report means wine sales have more than doubled at E-Mart, the largest seller, since 2005 when wine was in fifth position. That year, only 41 bottles of wine were sold for every 100 bottles of soju sold.

Wine is the only kind of liquor for which sales have been constantly on the rise over the past few years while soju sales have stagnated, the company told the Korea Times.

"This is the outcome of rapidly growing demand for wine of late," an E-mart official said. "We expect wine to be neck-and-neck with beer sales sooner or later with this growth."

The wine boom is ascribed to the influx of brands with reasonable prices from such producer countries as Chile, helped along by Korea's free trade agreement with that country.

The less costly wines are the most popular at the moment, with those selling for less than $10 moving fastest and accounting for 34.1% of overall wine sales, followed by those between $10 and $20 a bottle accounting for 30.1%, according to E-Market statistics. Discount stores have a 40% share of the wine sales nationwide.

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