Soju: Korea Moves

02 October, 2013
Jinro soju

Soju’s abv can range from 16-40%. “I respect each and every market’s  behaviour and preference,” says Yang Yin Jip.  In South Korea, soju is at its lowest strength, with the trend driven by younger drinkers – who mix it with juice, energy drinks, as cocktails or bomb it with lager (a Somak).

Shared market

The home market is shared mainly between Jinro, Lotte Liquor (25.4 million cases) and Bohae (4.6 million cases). 

The two brands both grew 6% last year, proving that new product lines, packaging and recipes, and celebrity endorsements – Jinro with Psy and Lotte’s with singer Lee Hyori, and now by Hyuna, Hara & Hyorin – can prise growth from even the most saturated markets. 

The two producers have had a fractious relationship since 2006, when Lotte launched Cheoumcheorum (Just Like the Beginning) to compete with Jinro’s best seller, Chamisul (Real Dew). Healthy competition turned a little personal, as the companies traded boasts and blows about water quality, sodium and sugar levels in their sojus, attracting the attentions of Korea’s Fair Trade Commission.  

In March 2012 the feud intensified when a cable channel documentary made spurious claims that the alkaline water of Cheoum Cheorum caused stomach and skin ailments.

According to Samuel Songhoon Lee’s Wall Street Journal blog, prosecutors found the claims to be untrue and said that, while Hite-Jinro had no direct involvement in the broadcast, some of the company’s salespeople had repeated the allegations. 

In March, Lotte filed a law suit against Hite-Jinro, reportedly citing lost earnings of $90m. Lotte spokesman Yoon Soo-han told the WSJ blog: “We hope that the lawsuit will clear the bad image and false rumours associated with Cheoumcheorum.” Hite-Jinro spokesperson Nho Eun-jung was reported to have said: “It is still an ongoing case, so facts must be clearly established. 

“When salespeople are making their pitch in the field, the competition often gets very tough, and I think that’s why things have come to this.

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