Whiskey, beer sales fall victim to economy

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Whiskey, beer sales fall victim to economy

The slowing domestic economy has dealt a blow to sales of whiskies and beers in the country.

Whiskey sales slumped nearly 10.1 percent in the first half from a year earlier, industry data showed yesterday. By volume, the sales figure declined from 1.6 million boxes to 1.18 million boxes over the same period. A box contains 18 bottles of half-liter whisky.

Sales of Scotch Blue, a brand under Korean liquor maker Lotte Chilsung Beverage, fell 11.4 percent on-year in the cited period, while whiskies made by Hite Jinro, another local brewery, nosedived 26.6 percent.

Foreign breweries also suffered setbacks. Pernod Ricard Korea, the local unit of France’s Pernod Ricard Group, saw sales of its Imperial brand tumble 14.7 percent on-year in the six-month period.

Diageo Korea, the Korean unit of the British liquor firm, performed better but still experienced a 4 percent decline in sales of its Windsor brand.

“The biggest culprit for the falling sales is the economy, which is fairly in bad shape,” said an industry insider, who declined to be named. “As economic conditions become ever-more aggravated, bars and room salons, which are purveyors of expensive liquor, have been seeing less business.”

More importantly, he pointed to changes in the drinking patterns exhibited by young people. “Whiskey has become a kind of symbol of Korea’s hierarchical corporate culture, as it is normal for bosses to make their subordinates drink so-called boilermakers [beer-whiskey cocktails]. But nowadays, young and trendy corporate workers are increasingly turning away from that side of our culture.”

This had caused revenue to dry up at many local drinking holes, including those that provide attractive female singing companions and exorbitantly priced bottles of liquor in affluent Gangnam District in southern Seoul. Industry data show that 11 room salons and bars shut down in the first half of the year, and 180 have applied for name changes to the district office. In Seoul especially, such name changes are often resorted to in a bid to drum up new business when times get hard.

Beer sales from local breweries have also shrunk. According to data from the Korea Alcohol & Liquor Industry Association, OB and Hite-Jinro, the nation’s two retail beer producers, took a 3.5 percent hit in the first four months of the year. They shipped just 52.2 million boxes from January to April, down from 54.1 million in the same period last year. A box contains 20 bottles.

Meanwhile, sales of soju, the nation’s most widely loved alcoholic drink, edged up 1.85 percent from January to April.

By Seo Ji-eun, Yonhap [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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