South Korea’s beer market is currently dominated by two brands: Hite by HiteJinro and Cass by Oriental Brewery (OB), part of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV. To fit the taste of Korean consumers, Korean breweries tend to focus on Lager-style beer with a low malt inclusion. To target the general mass, big Korean breweries produce low-price and low flavor beer. Although domestic beers made by large breweries are selling well, the imported beer and craft beer market are growing due to a change in preference.
Following several changes of beer brewing and distribution regulations, the local craft beer market is rising. The market share of small and medium breweries is still low compared to larger domestic companies, but the sales revenue of domestic craft beer is expected to grow rapidly until 2023. Taste is an important factor for its growing success: A survey in 2019 found that more than half of respondents stated that craft beer tastes better than regular beer. Nevertheless, the same survey found that Lager is the most preferred type of craft beer among South Korean consumers.
The change in taste and preferences not only led to a rise of craft beer, but also an increase in beer imports. Before the boycott of Japanese products in 2019, Japan was the leading country of origin for beer imports in 2018. The reason for that might be that many Japanese breweries focus on Lager-style beer:The familiarity of flavors could be the key for success in the South Korean market. Other strong importers are China and the U.S.A., as well as European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Ireland. While beer companies China and the U.S. are often linked to other multi-national companies, many South Koreans believe that European beer is better tasting and of higher quality.