The popularity of traditional Korean liquor continues to grow, led by Generation MZ, the core of the consumption trend.
According to the retail industry on Jan. 21, Lotte Mart’s traditional liquor sales from January to April this year increased by 15% compared to the same period last year. Following a 23.2 percent year-on-year growth in 2020, the first year of COVID-19, the company has maintained double-digit growth rates, including 36.9 percent in 2021 and 16.7 percent in 2022.
“Rice spirits, as well as spirits with various flavors such as sweet potato, barley, and apple, are gaining popularity among younger customers,” said a LOTTE Mart representative.
Traditional liquor is also popular in convenience stores.
CU’s annual sales growth rate (year-on-year) shows a steep upward curve, with 23.2% in 2020, 36.9% in 2021, and 16.7% in 2022. This year’s January-May period also saw double-digit growth, with a 14.6% increase over the same period last year.
Last week, ‘Gyeongju Beopjoo Super Special’, a high-end handmade liquor launched on its own commerce app (Pocket CU), sold out of the 120 bottles it had prepared in less than an hour, despite being priced at 47,000 won. This is unusual considering that it was recently featured as a dinner drink at the Korea-Japan summit.
The MZ generation is at the center of this traditional liquor craze.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, young people have emerged as the mainstay of traditional liquor consumption, coinciding with the rise of ‘home drinking’ and ‘solo drinking’. The analysis suggests that young people are attracted to the unique flavors and coolness of traditional spirits, which are different from conventional alcoholic beverages.
In fact, the share of sales of traditional spirits by age group in CU this year was 10.0% for those in their 20s, 15.2% for those in their 30s, and 28.9% for those in their 40s, accounting for 54.1% of the total. Sales to those in their 50s (27.6%) and 60s (18.3%), the traditionalist demographic, accounted for less than half.
Department stores are also paying attention to the popularity of traditional liquor, which is showing a ‘long run’ pattern.
Shinsegae Department Store, which has operated ‘Woorisulbang’, a store dedicated to traditional liquor, since 2014, opened ‘Shinsegae Woorisul Specialty Center’ on SSG.com in July last year to target younger customers. It is an online expansion of the offline-centered traditional liquor store안전놀이터. In time for the Lunar New Year holiday, it also introduced a gift set of traditional liquor worth 12 million won, limited to 10 sets.
Thanks to these sales expansion strategies, Shinsegae’s traditional liquor sales increased by 16.6% from January to April this year compared to the same period last year.
According to National Statistics Korea, the market size of traditional liquor was 94.1 billion won as of 2021, accounting for only 1.07% of the total domestic liquor market (approximately 8.8 trillion won). However, the annual growth rate (year-on-year) has been rising steeply: 13.8% in 2018, 16.8% in 2019, 18% in 2020, and 50.2% in 2021.
“As the popularity of traditionalism is solidifying into a long-term trend rather than a short-term phenomenon, the competition for customer acquisition by distribution channels will become more intense in the future,” said an industry insider.