A growing share of women in South Korea's workforce is fuelling demand for spirits with a lower alcoholic content. David Pollard reports on how the industry is having to adapt.
They like a drink or two in South Korea. In fact, they're Asia-Pacific's biggest drinkers - putting away even more than the region's other champions, the Australians. Men traditionally lead the charge. Their top tipple: 'soju bombs' - beer mixed with the country's popular grain-based spirit. Women are fast catching up. And have their own weapon of choice: lower-alcohol, fruit-flavoured soju. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) 31-YEAR-OLD SOUTH KOREAN KIM HANA, SAYING: "In the past, people were forced to drink 'soju bombs' because of a company drinking culture. But the drinking culture has changed ... The fruit-flavoured soju gives me time to enjoy a conversation, so I prefer to drink a fruity one with my friends." This softer side to the country's drinking culture is booming. Now around a fifth of soju purchases, fruity varieties have lifted total soju sales by eight per cent. Around half of South Korean women have jobs - that's low by comparison, but the numbers are on the up. In a drinks market market worth over eight billion dollars. Senior Korea Investment and Security analyst, Lee Kyoung-ju. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SENIOR ANALYST OF EQUITY ANALYSIS DEPARTMENT AT KOREA INVESTMENT AND SECURITIES, LEE KYOUNG-JU, SAYING: "There was pent-up demand for low-alcohol drinks in South Korea's spirits market as more and more females join the workforce." And rising incomes for both genders is turning taste higher-end. Sparkling wine imports rose nearly 20 per cent in the first half of this year. Wine imports overall are on track to overtake another Asian favourite - whisky.