Alcohol imports rise by 9.5% to reach new high

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Alcohol imports rise by 9.5% to reach new high

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Korean alcohol imports hit a record high of $570 million last year, up 9.5 percent year-on-year, despite sluggish domestic consumer sentiment.

This is the first time that the nation’s liquor imports have exceeded $500 million.

Beer was once again the most imported type of alcohol, thanks to its affordability, while wine imports remained almost steady and whisky imports declined.

According to the Korea Customs Service on Friday, 170 billion liters (45 billion gallons) of alcohol were imported last year, up 15.4 percent over 2013.

Beer imports posted 118 million liters, or about 357 million 330-milliter (11-ounce) bottles, an increase of 24.5 percent year-on-year. Imports of beer have been growing by an average 26 percent per year since 2010. On average, that means a Korean adult over the age of 19, the legal drinking age, consumed 8.8 bottles of beer last year.

Until 2010, the largest portion of imported beer was from the Netherlands. The other major exporter of beer was Germany.

Wine was the second most imported type of alcohol last year, at 33 million liters, which is an increase of just 1 percent year-on-year. This means the nation imported 44 million 750-milliters bottles of wine last year, equivalent to 1.1 bottles per drinking-age adult. Last year was the first year on record that wine imports have declined.

As in previous years, Chilean wine was the most popular, accounting for 26 percent of total wine imports by volume, followed by Spain (21 percent) and Italy (15 percent).

But while beer and wine imports rose, whiskey imports slipped by 2.8 percent, to 17 million liters.

This was not a new trend. By volume, Korea’s whiskey imports have decreased by an average of 7.8 percent per year for the past five years. Of all whiskey brought to the country last year, 95 percent was from the United Kingdom, while 4 percent came from the United States and 0.2 percent was from Ireland.

“Besides people’s taste shifting to favor soft alcohol, the sluggish domestic economy is another major reason why people have been drinking less whiskey lately. Both whiskey import and consumption reduced,” the Korea Customs Service said in an analysis on Friday.

The price per unit of imported whiskey was up 10.2 percent last year to $11.68 per liter.

Sake import also inched down last year by 1.7 percent to 3.8 million liters, while its overall unit price dropped 7.5 percent year-on-year to $3.84 per liter.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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