The Korea Herald


Inexpensive whiskey brands target Korean budget sippers

By Shim Woo-hyun

Published : Feb. 11, 2024 - 16:01

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Bottles of whiskey are displayed on a counter at store in Seoul. (Yonhap) Bottles of whiskey are displayed on a counter at store in Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korean whiskey providers are searching for new import markets like those in Taiwan, India, Spain and Australia, as consumers here crave new varieties at reasonable prices.

“Local demands for affordable whiskey products are increasing with the surge of people consuming highball cocktails. Yet, whiskey products from major whiskey producers such as the UK, the US and Japan are expensive and less available to local consumers,” an industry source said.

“Whiskey products from Australia and other lesser-known whiskey-producing countries can become good alternatives to the main whiskey brands that are already here,” the source added.

The import value of Australian whiskey products, for instance, was at around $4,000 in 2021, but the figure increased to $73,000 in 2022 and $139,000 in 2023.

Korea's BGF Retail, which operates franchise convenience store CU, also said the company will launch a one-liter Australian whiskey product for less than 20,000 won ($15).

Whiskey products from India are also expanding their presence in the South Korean market. The import value of whiskey products from India in 2021 came to $159,000 and soared to some $500,000 in 2023.

Well-known for years in India, Paul John, an Indian single malt whiskey provider, opened a master class this year to promote its products here.

Whiskey imports from Taiwan are also increasing rapidly. The import value of whiskey products from Taiwan in 2021 reached $961,000, but the figure doubled to $2 million in 2023, becoming the sixth-largest whiskey provider to South Korea.

“The market share of Taiwanese whiskey products in Korea has increased recently,” an official from Golden Blue, an exclusive distributor of top Taiwanese whiskey brand Kavalan’s products here.

Another country that has exported more whiskey products to Korea is Spain. The import value of Spanish whiskey products jumped to $407,000 last year, from $83,000 in 2021.

Combined whiskey imports from the UK, the US, Japan and Ireland still accounted for 96.8 percent of the country’s total whiskey imports last year. But the figure went down from 97.9 percent two years ago, as the country’s whiskey imports from other countries increased.

“Imports of whiskey products from whisky providing countries still account for only a small portion but they are expected to increase further down the road,” a source from a local whiskey company said.

“More whiskey brands and products from non-major whiskey providing countries are entering the South Korean market. The trend will provide more diverse options to local customers,” the source added.