Koreans now like wine most

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Koreans now like wine most

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Preferred wines, from left, Black Box red wine (500 ml); Meander Moscato and Pink Moscato (275 ml); mini M, made out of mineral water from the Alps (275ml); and Stack Wine (187 ml). Provided by the companies

For years, Koreans thought wine was an exotic, expensive luxury.

But as this booze-loving country increasingly turns to lighter drinks, wine importers have lowered the price tags and reaped the benefits.

Wine has become Korea’s favorite imported drink, outpacing whisky, which had the time-honored marketing benefit of going well with soju to make a boilermaker.

According to the Korea Customs Service on Sept. 3, imports of wine in the first six months of this year totaled $94.4 million, surpassing whisky’s $89.8 million for the first time since related data was compiled.

A key factor was falling prices for imported wine, which have been declining for the four years since the Korea-EU free trade pact went into effect. Korea also has FTAs with the United States and Chile. But in addition, wine importers have been clever enough to reduce their imports of pricey wines that people brag after ordering at a bar or restaurant. Cheaper wines are the new normal.

The price of wine in containers of 2 liters or less averaged $5.73 during the first half of this year, down by over 6 percent from the same period a year earlier. The $5.73 average is lower than the level seen in 2012 and 2013.

“As the proportion of female drinkers increases in the alcohol market, soft flavors have become a crucial component in the alcoholic drinks market,” said Shin Geun-joong, head of the alcohol department at E-Mart, a discount chain. “Wine represents mildness in drinking and that’s why its revenue has been growing.”

A similar trend has captured the soju market. Soju producers have rushed to invent milder and sweeter soju varieties with alcohol volumes of 13 percent or lower. Fruit flavored soju such as grapefruit, blueberry and pomegranate and have been immensely popular among the younger generation in the past six months.

Wine importers are bringing in cheaper and milder wines and reducing the bottle size too. Shinsegae L&B in June rolled out two types of Meander sparkling wine - Moscato and Pink Moscato - and their size is 275 milliliters, one third the conventional 750-milliliter bottle. They have adopted screw caps instead of traditional corks to improve convenience. Meander has sold over 250,000 bottles in just three months, a huge success for a single wine product.

Another local importer Ayoung FBC has come up with a unique product called Stack Wines, mini-portions of wine (187-milliliters) that are sold in vertically stacked plastic containers. They’re good for bringing camping or on a picnic. The American brand comes in three varieties: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and a red blend called Charisma.

Black Box from the same importer, Ayoung FBC, contains cabernet sauvignon in a boxed wine popular among male drinkers.

The rising number of single-person households and 24-hour convenience stores is also contributing to the popularity of more convenient wine products.

“Given the over 20,000 types of wine available in Korea now, I would say the country now has a sufficient level of variety,” said Shin Sung-ho, managing director of Nara Cellar, a major wine importer. “As there is much room for additional sales growth from convenience stores, we predict smaller and more user-friendly wines would be available there.”


BY LEE SO-AH, SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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