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Soju paves the way for better visibility of Korean food and drink

Soju, Korea’s national drink, and bibimbap, a rice dish mixed with meat and vegetables, lead the way in foreign markets as Korea’s best known culinary exports.

Soju paves the way for better visibility of Korean food and drink

According to the latest Korean Food Promotion Institute findings, soju is the most recognised Korean alcoholic beverage among international consumers.

The institute conducted its 2023 Overseas Korean Food Consumer Survey on 9,000 adults in 18 major cities worldwide. Data was collected between August and October 2023, and the results reveal a growing appetite for Korean flavours across the world.

According to the survey, 41.1% of participants identified soju as a familiar Korean alcoholic drink. Its recognition surpassed that of beer, which was identified by 31.6% of participants. Fruit wine was recognised by 22.8%, “cheongju” (refined rice wine) by 17.9% and “takju” (raw rice wine) by 14.5%.

Soju consumption over the past two years has increased by 1.4%, totalling a consumption rate of 47.9% among those surveyed.

Soju’s popularity was highest in markets in Southeast Asia, where 62.7% of respondents said they recognise the drink.

International promotion is boosting soju’s profile among global consumers.

North America was found to be less familiar with Korean food and drink. However, the region showed a significant year-on-year increase in willingness to try Korean alcoholic beverages, up 12.1%, according to The Korea Times.

Consumer education around Korean drinks is growing, and is likely a factor in driving up consumption. In late 2023 the state of California passed a bill allowing Japanese shochu to be sold under its own name, after decades being mislabelled as soju. The change is likely to lessen confusion around the two drinks, allowing both shochu and soju to be better defined by their origins.

In December, Spirit of Gallo, the spirits division of wine giant E&J Gallo, partnered with South Korean conglomerate Lotte Chilsung Beverage Co. to distribute soju in the US, a move which will likely increase recognition yet more.

In the UK, London pizza chain Yard Sale teamed up with soju producer Jinro to launch a pairing collaboration throughout August following news that British sales of the Korean drink climbed 35% year-on-year.

Among soju drinkers surveyed by the Korean Food Promotion Institute, 35.1% cited taste as the reason for drinking Korean alcoholic drinks, while 16% said it was recommendations from others, and 15.5% said their appearances on K-dramas and movies had sparked an interest.

When it came to food, bibimbap claimed the top spot as the favourite with 22.8% of the vote, closely followed by “gimbap” (seaweed rice roll) at 19.1%, nd kimchi fried rice at 13%.

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