Sunday, April 29, 2012

Changing Beer Tastes in Korea?

Beer Imports in Korea

Good beer is the next big thing in Korea. Get in quickly if you're an investor because change happens fast in the land of mourning calm long gone -- just look at the astonishingly abrupt change in the taste for coffee. As recently as 2005, I was still bemoaning the paucity of good coffee here in Korea. Now, it's available everywhere! Likewise, tastes in beer are changing, and Korean drinkers -- having traveled and experienced the worldwide brotherhood of beer -- are no longer willing to accept low standards here in their own country:
Budweiser . . . [is] classified as [a] domestic [product] . . . because . . . [it is] produced under license by Korea's Oriental Brewery. This has led to complaints that . . . [it doesn't] taste as good here as in . . . the United States.

Well . . . okay, but Korean tastes have to start changing somewhere, and believe me, they'll improve and change fast. Very fast. Anyway, the same article, "Miller time for foreign beers as tastes change" (yeah, I know, but God's millers also grind slow), which was published in the JoongAng Daily for April 28, 2012 and written by business reporter Kim Mi-ju, notes other, far better beers that Koreans are beginning to drink:
Now it is easy to find a pint of Guinness on tap in fashionable Seoul nightspots like Hongdae or Gangnam . . . . Meanwhile, franchise bars such as Wa Bar have even set up shop near City Hall to offer tired civil servants a choice of over 90 foreign beers from as far afield as Austria, South Africa and India . . . . [R]etailers and beer manufacturers here are zeroing in on the changing tastes of local consumers and their developing taste for richer hops and malts . . . . Homeplus said it will expand its selection of beers from 141 last year to 230 in 2012 as it places its faith in the domestic market's clamor . . . for diversity and quality . . . . Distributor Diageo Korea brought Irish red ale Smithwick's to Korea earlier this month to tap the growing desire for premium imported beers . . . [and] already distributes Guinness Irish stout . . . . Around 3,500 pubs and restaurants sell Asahi draft . . . . Heineken Korea said sales of its Dutch beer went up 1.7 percent last year . . . . Foreign beers are estimated to grow to 10 percent of Korea's total beer market in a few years . . . . Retailers have been expanding their foreign beer portfolios since 2010 in tandem with the mushrooming number of pubs that specialize in selling them . . . . [S]ales of domestic beers and soju dropped by 7 percent each in the first quarter of this year, [while] sales of foreign beers rose 21 percent . . . . On a similar note, Lotte Mart said it will increase its selection of imported beers by more than 15 percent to 150 after it saw on-year sales grow 16.8 percent in the first quarter.

Apologies to various individuals for mashing together their quotes from the article, but I wanted to summarize the central point succinctly, namely, that tastes in beer are changing fast and that the market for good beer is primed to grow. Investors should get in now if they want to make money, for there's money to be made, not only in imports, but also in the growth of the local craft beer sector.

But, of course, the best beer in Korea is still to be found at the Craftworks Taphouse . . .

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