As whiskey falls from grace, vodka back in fashion

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As whiskey falls from grace, vodka back in fashion

Will whiskey sales bounce back after falling into a trough this year? Not for the time being at least, according to local market observers.

Imported whiskeys have taken a hammering from the economic slowdown, with sales plunging nearly 40 percent in the first six months compared to the same period last year, according to statistics released by the Korea Alcohol & Liquor Industry Association yesterday.

This comes as salarymen, feeling the economic pinch, cut back on their evening visits to expensive room salons, and companies slowly migrate away from building work-force integrity by hosting heavy boozing sessions.From January to June, 1,176 kiloliters (310, 666 gallons) of whiskey were sold, down 38.9 percent from a year earlier and almost half of the volume sold in the same period of 2010, the data showed.

Apart from purely economic reasons, industry insiders say that drinkers are increasingly turning to other beverages such as rum, vodka and tequila, as well as lighter alcoholic drinks.

“The latest trend here is to have light drinks with low alcohol content,” said an industry source at a local whiskey distributor, adding that its sales of distilled liquor overall have jumped 30.1 percent on-year.

National sales of Koreans’ favorite mealtime tipple, soju, edged up 2.45 percent on-year to 633,000 kiloliters in the first half, while beer sales added 0.82 percent to stand at 447,000 kiloliters, the association said.

To ramp up sales of their non-whiskey portfolios, distributors have been aggressively rolling out promotions to lure young drinkers.

Diageo Korea, the local distributor of Johnnie Walker, and Pernod Ricard Korea, which deals with Ballantines, have been ramping up their online promotions for vodka brands like Smirnoff and Absolut. This marks a shift away from their on-street marketing that targeted clubbers in popular Seoul nightspots like Hongdae and Cheongdam.

Diageo Korea even opened a Facebook page for Smirnoff fans in March, sharing cocktail ideas and other tips on how to enjoy the drink in more creative ways. It also gives free gifts and invitations to events to Facebook users. Pernod Ricard Korea launched a similar page on the U.S. social networking for Absolut in November to better familiarize Korean drinkers with the brand.

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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