HiteJinro: Soju’s export mission

A spirit historically bound to the South Korean market, soju consumption is rapidly increasing in key global markets.

HiteJinro is a major player in the soju category that has recently begun expansion into UK markets. The brand, which has continually topped the list of Drinks International’s The Millionaires’ Club, sold more than 94 million 9-litre cases in 2021.

The expansion comes as part of ongoing investment in the UK market to increase distribution and awareness of the brand, following the success of recent UK collaborations with brands, including a campaign with Honest Burgers that aligned with traditional consumption of Jinro alongside food.

Hwang Jung-Ho, managing director of HiteJinro tells Drinks International at All Points East festival: “Recently our sales have rapidly increased by more than 10 times. People are interested in Korea through K-drama or K-film, which includes scenes of people who are drinking soju, so the young generation are more interested in this product. We’ve also noticed the young generations pre- fer a low-abv drink as they are increasingly interested in wellbeing.”

The interest in Korean culture, particularly in the UK, is something HiteJinro is tapping into through its recent sponsorship of All Points East festival, the first time a Korean spirit brand has supported a major UK festival. The HiteJinro activation saw a two-floor bar, themed on a giant case of Jinro where festival-goers explored a neon bar and prize-led games based on traditional Korean games.

“At the moment, as we introduce into the UK market, it’s the beginning. Already in the Korean market in the UK we have sold a lot, I think it’s our base for expanding into the whole European market.

“HiteJinro’s long-term plan is for many different countries to experience our soju. Many participants of the festival are the younger generation, so that coincides with our targets for them,” Jung-Ho continues.

Another key step in the expansion of the spirit is to be recognised as its own category. “In April, our soju was recognised as a proper product in its own right. From early next year, it’s going to be known in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Nice classification as soju. With this recognition we can expand our products globally, which is important,” Jung-Ho adds.

HiteJinro also plans to target both restaurants and supermarkets, making the drink accessible to consumers across the country. This follows the launch of its new peach flavour, as appetite for the flavoured range of Jinro, Chamisul, has increased at 51% CAGR since 2018 and has accelerated over the past two years with the Chamisul range taking a category market share of 63% in 2021.

When looking at the future of HiteJinro and further expansion of the range, Jung-Ho says: “We already have fruit soju; Green Grape, Plum, Grapefruit, and now Peach. If the consumers have a need for a certain flavour, there is no reason why we can’t meet that demand, as we have seen with the Peach. However, we already have Chamisul Fresh (regular), which we won’t ignore when expanding the fruit flavours. We will still pay attention to our regular soju.”