Lower Alcohol Sojus Headache for Traditional BrandsSoju - the ubiquitous Korean firewater once a favorite with do-it-yourself enthusiasts for its paintstripping qualities - is undergoing a makeover for the new millennium. The 50-proof labels that monopolized the market for almost 20 years are fast disappearing as drinkers turn to lighter alcohol brands.
Lower alcohol sojus have pushed 25-percent alcohol brands into less than 10 percent of the market. Soju companies expect that if the current trend continues, lower alcohol sojus will have seized all of the domestic market by next year.
According to a survey by the Korea Alcohol & Liquor Industry Association (KALIA), the market share taken by low-proof sojus was just 17.8 percent in 1997, but exceeded 50 percent by June 1999 and skyrocketed to 84.8 percent in March of 2000.
The market for lower alcohol sojus at the end of March 2000 was dominated by Jinro with 53.6 percent, followed by Keumbokju Cham Special with 11.8 percent, Muhak's White with 11.1 percent, and Daesun's Siwon Soju with 10 percent.
Doosan's 'New Green' low alcohol label, launched last December, records a market share of just 10 percent in the low-alcohol soju market.
Doosan was second only to Jinro in the overall soju market only one year ago, but it dropped to fifth in April 2000 because it was late in launching its own low-alcohol soju.
One Doosan representative says that if exports are included, Doosan still takes second place in the Soju market. However, the domestic and especially metropolitan preference for low-alcohol sojus has seen it outstripped in the domestic market. Even in Kyongsang Province - once Doosan's domain - it has fallen behind local soju companies and its domestic sales have seen hefty cuts.
Jinro director Kim Sang-su perceives a shift away from the trend of consuming strong soju. He forecasts that the Japanese fashion for using soju as a base for mixed drinks will soon be visible in Korea.
by Choi Joon-ho