Trend shifts to weaker soju

April 7, 2015
Bottles of soju line shelves at a Los Angeles Korean market.

Bottles of soju line shelves at a Los Angeles Korean market.

By Park Ji-hye

Forget that age-old principle about soju, Korea’s favorite spirit, having a 20 percent ABV (alcohol by volume.)

Most sojus stateside are hovering around 19 percent ABV, but manufacturers are looking more and more to follow in the footsteps of Korea to less potent alcohol — where the average soju ABV is down to 17.5 percent — to attract younger crowds.

HITEJINRO’s Chamisul and Lotte Liquor’s Chum Churum, two soju flagships, are currently sold at 19 percent ABV in U.S. stores. Likewise, brands like Bohae Yipsejoo, Goodday and Charm soju possess around 19.3 to 19.5 percent.

Lotte Liquor stated Monday its plans to release lower-ABV sojus, at 18 percent. Its offerings will include Chum Churum Rich, at 20 percent, original Chum Churum, at 18 percent, and a mild version, at 16.8 percent.

“Consumers used to have a culture of drinking many bottles at once, but recently, the trend has shifted toward consumers who prefer lighter drinking arrangements,” said Park Jong-hun, overseas head.

Park said Lotte Liquor is looking to make its soju smoother and easier to drink.

A Jinro source said although Chamisul Fresh (19.5 percent ABV) and Chamisul Classic (20.1 percent ABV) have a minor difference in alcoholic volume, Fresh outsells Classic by seven-to-one.

The trend is seen most prominently in Los Angeles, home to the largest Korean population outside South Korea. John Yoon, manager of Galleria Market Northridge, said the younger generation and female customers pick up weaker sojus far more often.

“Ninety percent of younger people pick up sojus with smaller ABV percentages,” Yoon said.

Soju is on the rise — although it has yet to take over the U.S. market, Jinro’s soju was the world’s best-selling liquor in 2011, with 64.59 million cases sold.

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