In total, 8.54 million bottles were sold in Vietnam in 2018, which is a 32% rise from the previous year.
The overwhelming popularity of the hallyu wave in Vietnam (particularly K-pop and Korean dramas) as well as the emergence of Korean football coach Park Hang-seo as something of a Vietnamese ‘national hero’ for leading the national team to a number of victories were mentioned as major contributing factors to the success of soju.
Both Lotte Liquors and Hite Jinro have capitalised on this hype in recent years to either open Korean soju restaurants or local branches in the country.
Speaking at a vision launch ceremony in Hanoi, Hite Jinro CEO Kim In-Kyu said that the company would be taking a focused and localised approach in Vietnam.
“[Hite Jinro] will utilise specialised marketing solutions and strengthen the marketing and sales network to win over the Vietnamese consumers, with focus on our Jinro soju and Hite beer,” said Kim.
The company opened its first local subsidiary in Hanoi in 2016, and a second branch in Ho Chi Minh last year.
South East Asia is a clearly significant market for the company, with revenue from the region reaching US$8.8mn (KRW9.8bn) in 2017 – a significant increase from US$6mn (KRW6.7bn) in 2016, and US$4.9mn (KRW5.5bn) in 2015, according to Korea Biz Wire.
“In South East Asia, young people are interested in Korean drinks and food as the Korean Wave of dramas and movies have been gaining popularity among them,” added a company spokesman.
The company has plans to up its market share in the country 7% by 2020.
Lotte Liquors is also placing a lot of emphasis on Vietnam, which is unsurprising following its Chumchurum soju brand’s three million bottles sold and 30% year-on-year sales increase in 2018.
The company initiated retail sales of Chumchurum in the new terminal of Vietnam’s Da Nang International Airport last year, the first time ever that foreign duty free shops have sold this.
Hite Jinro’s global expansion
Hite Jinro has grand aspirations to become a ‘global liquor company’ by its 100th anniversary in 2024.
To this end, the company is utilising a ‘glocalisation’ marketing strategy to break into foreign markets by launching alcoholic products tailored for foreign customers, such as in Vietnam, according to Korea Herald.
These include its Hite Extra Strong (8% alcohol) in New Zealand, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, as well as its frioty low-alcohol soju Jinro Plum in the United States.
Alcohol consumption in the region
According to numbers from the Korea Customs Service, the value of soju exported to Vietnam was US$5.5mn as of December 2018, a 41% leap year-on-year from US$3.9mn in December 2017.
Vietnam makes up some 32% of the alcohol sales in Southeast Asia, where the value of soju exported to the region rose 62% to US$12.6mn in 2017, from US$7.8mn in 2015.
According to numbers released by the World Health Organisation, Vietnam ranks second in the world for alcohol at an average of 8.7 litres of alcohol a year on average.
That said, South Korea remains the highest consumers of alcohol in Asia, with South Koreans aged 15 and above drinking 10.9 litres of alcohol a year on average.