With liquor as growth engine, E-mart pushes imported beers

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With liquor as growth engine, E-mart pushes imported beers

E-Mart, the nation’s largest discount supermarket chain, said it will strengthen the imported beer lineup on its shelves as its mother company, Shinsegae, tries to make liquor a new growth engine.

E-Mart said total sales for imported beer in its stores might be greater than total sales for soju this year for the first time.

E-Mart opened a Gimpo-Hangang branch on Jan. 29 and the Sejong branch on Feb. 5 this year. In both it made special sections for imported beers.

The most significant difference is the way the two stores display beers. In other stores, E-Mart just put beers on shelves by brands. But in the new stores, about 280 different imported beers were displayed by types with product details.

E-Mart divided the imported beer sections into six categories: craft, lager, pils, weizen, mania and non-alcohol/ready-to-drink (RTD). In the lager corner, a product explanation reads, “Beer made with cold fermentation has more carbonic acid and a creamy head.” In the pils corner, an explanation read, “A type of lager that provides a slightly more bitter taste than lager.”

The company looked into its 143 stores’ sales records for imported beers and the Gimpo-Hangang store was ranked 18th while the Sejong store was ranked 21 as of February.

“Imported beers are easily found at Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, and Yongsan, where many foreigners tend to visit, but were hard to find elsewhere for customers who enjoy drinking at home,” said Shin Keun-ryu, head of E-Mart’s liquor business. “Once we provide many types of beers at reasonable prices, the demand for imported beer will grow for sure.”

In fact, sales of imported beers last year for E-Mart were 61.4 billion won ($56 million), an 8.3 percent rise from a year earlier. It was the biggest growth among any liquors, including red wine (6.6 percent), white wine (5.9 percent) and soju (4.6 percent). The sales gap with Korea’s most popular liquor, soju, has been narrowed from 6.2 billion won in 2013 to 4.4 billion won last year.

This year, the gap is narrowing further. Sales of imported beers have increased 23 percent in the first two months from a year ago, while sales of soju only increased 1.2 percent. The industry predicts that sales of imported beers will be greater than soju this year for the first time.

E-Mart will open more imported beer sections at new stores and in existing stores. E-Mart said the growth of imported beers can create some synergy, possibly with snacks and other processed goods.

“Recently, Koreans enjoy beer like they do coffee,” said a spokesman for E-Mart. “They do care about a beer’s taste and scent. We will expand the craft beer lineup from 18 to 30 as they are the most favored type of beer for Koreans. We will keep trying to popularize imported beers as demand is growing every day.”

BY KWON SANG-SOO, LEE SO-AH [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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