It was not just delivery services or online shopping that thrived in South Korea during the pandemic years. The liquor market, especially for high-end whiskeys and wines, has seen dramatic growth, according to Frantz Hotton, CEO of Pernod Ricardo Korea, the Korean unit of the French wine and spirit giant.
Hotton, who took the helm in 2021 when COVID-19 was still rampant across the world, said that people's behavioral changes have had a significant impact on how they consume alcoholic beverages over the past year.
Quarantine rules may have pushed more people to eat and drink at home instead of going out. Although such things were available even before the pandemic, it was the restrictions which ultimately helped people explore and diversify their drink options, the CEO said.
“If you go with friends to a traditional Korean restaurant, you would go for soju. If you (eat) fried chicken, you will go for beer. But, when you're at home, you do what you want,” Hotton said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald
People have always wanted more diverse options but it was the COVDI-19 pandemic which led to a “massive acceleration” of that trend, the CEO said.
“That was a game changer in the whiskey and wine markets in Korea.”
Increased demand for imported liquor led directly to robust growth in the company’s sales in recent years. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, sales soared to 120 billion won ($91 million), a 33 percent surge from a year before. In the following 2021-2022 period, the figure jumped again by 33 percent to 159.8 billion won.
The CEO was upbeat about this year’s outlook, predicting solid double-digit growth.
Adding to the renewed consumer sentiment, he also attributed the company’s strong performance to its diversified product lineup. In 2022 alone, a total of 15 new products were launched, including gin, champagne, rose wine and other non-Scotch whiskeys.
Scotch whiskeys had a dominant presence in the past, but the trend is changing, with consumer demands growing for different types of wines, as well as for Bourbon and Irish whiskey products.
The increased diversity, the CEO stressed, has been ultimately driven by the younger generation and female consumers.
“The impact of the younger generation in the market is much higher now than before,” Hotton said. “There has been a quite big move on spirit consumption made by females."
The company is also adjusting its marketing strategy to better meet the new demands.
“The way that the new generation considers luxury is very different from the older generation. It is less about big brands but more about niche brands. It is less about their prices (and) more about their craftsmanship,” Hotton said.
"It's really about what you deliver in terms of experience, and how exclusive is your experience,” he added, citing Le Cercle, the company’s private membership program that offers exclusive benefits.
Largely buoyed by the ongoing success, the company is also ramping up efforts to share profits with its employees and improve their overall welfare, the CEO said.
Last year, the company compensated employees with hefty team and individual incentives.
Pernod Ricard Korea currently hires about 150 employees. The CEO hinted that the company would continue to hire local talents.