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South Koreans are drinking more imported wine than ever—at home

February 1, 2022
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Both wine and whiskey sales are on the rise, so Wisconsin wineries and distilleries may want to consider exporting their products to South Korea. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to restrict their social lives, South Koreans raised their glasses at home in 2021, often with an alcoholic beverage purchased right at their local convenience stores.

Sales of imported wine hit record levels in South Korea last year, with convenience stores reporting sharp increases in wine purchases. Wine sales jumped 204% at 7-Eleven; 158% at GS25; 106% at Emart24 and 102% at BGF stores.

Emart24 said it sold more than 3 million bottles of wine last year, 24% of them in December alone. Lotte Members, a South Korean customer-oriented platform company, said its members bought, on average, 2.3 bottles of wine per month at convenience stores from January-October 2021, up from 1.8 bottles per person during the same period in 2020. The average purchase was $28, compared to $21 the previous year.

As wine sales grew, wine imports hit a record high last year. According to the Korea Customs Service, wine imports totaled 76,575 tons last year, up 41% from 54,126 tons in 2020. Even before the pandemic, South Korea’s wine imports had been rising steadily, from $244 million USD in 2018 to $259 million USD in 2019 and $332 million USD in 2020. In 2021, from January through November, wine imports amounted to $506 million USD, according to the Korea Herald. French wines were the most popular, followed by those from the U.S., Chile and Spain.

Red wines account for nearly 70% of the sales, but white wine and sparkling wine are gaining interest. White wine drew 21% of the wine purchases in South Korea in 2021 and sparkling wine hit 9%.

Whiskey sales also have increased. South Korea’s whiskey imports hit $154 million USD in the first 11 months of 2021, up 37% from a year earlier, according to the Korea Herald. Whiskey products traditionally are not very popular in Korea, but young people have been sharing images of their whiskey drinks on social media, and the demand for whiskey is now steadily growing. Some whiskey companies have released new products with weaker alcohol percentages, targeting women and younger consumers.

Industry experts said that with social gathering restrictions and business curfews in place throughout the pandemic, many South Koreans preferred drinking at home. The growth in sales of imported alcohol beverages is expected to continue, so this could be a good opportunity for Wisconsin companies to pursue the South Korean market.


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