Recording a 6.92 percent growth in 2017, the alcoholic beverages market in South Korea recently seemed to recover from a big slump. The alcohol market and the food market are apparently getting smaller because of the anti-corruption and bribery prohibition law, which restricts the value of gifts, meals, drinks and other forms of entertainment between people. Changes in the number of bars and pubs also reflect a steady decrease since 2009. The growing number of people in younger generations who value their time alone has also likely contributed to the decreasing market size.
South Korean alcoholic beverage companies are seeking the ways to attract more consumers. For example, HiteJinro has established an import distribution partnership with many international beer companies in order to cope with the increasing market demand for imported beer. Beverage manufacturers such as HiteJinro, Oriental Brewery (OB, bought by Anheuser-Busch in 2014), Lotte Chilsung Beverage, Muhak and Kumbokju dominate the domestic alcoholic beverage market, providing a variety of high and low alcohol content specialties in the country, such as beer, soju, makgeolli (unrefined rice wine), fruit wine and other spirits.
Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in South Korea, followed by soju and makgeolli. Over the past few years, beer market sales made up over 40 percent of total alcohol sales in South Korea. The retail sales value of beer in South Korea stood at more than 15 billion U.S. dollars and was expected to reach almost 20 billion U.S. dollars by 2022. As the 10th largest spirits market in the world, South Koreans consumed approximately 11.3 billion U.S. dollars in retail sales value of spirits in 2018. Over the forecast period, the retail sales value of spirits was expected to increase to 12.22 billion U.S. dollars in 2022.
In South Korea, it is common to consume food with alcohol and each drink is considered to match to a different kind of food. For example, chicken is matched to beer – they are called “chimaek” together. According to one survey, the most common foods to eat along with alcohol was jeon (pancake) or tofu. South Koreans drink alcohol 8.8 days per month on average. As of 2017, the consumption rate of imported beer amounted to around 83 percent and the popularity of imported alcoholic beverages was forecasted to steadily rise over the next few years.