Mersol & Luo Insights
Growth and evolution of alcohol consumption in Asia
Asia, when considered as a single market, is large, diverse, and complex.
The continuing evolution of consumer preferences for alcohol are similarly diverse. Most markets have their own indigenous alcohol—such as sake in Japan, soju in South Korea, and baijiu in China—with beer traditionally jostling alongside these for market share and grape wines following behind.
This is quickly changing. Grape wines are already becoming mainstays in global cities, such as Singapore, and making significant headway in wealthy and middle-income markets like Japan, China, and Taiwan. Beer, long dominated by pale lagers, is giving way to a more diverse offering of flavors—particularly wheat beers, IPAs, and full-bodied easy-drinking ales.
This paper focuses on headline numbers and characteristics of Asia’s largest and most rapidly changing markets as well as small, but excellent entry points into the region.
Spirits, namely sake and whiskey, account for the lion’s share of alcohol sales by value in Japan, though beer dominates by volume. Most sales are of major local and international brands but space is opening up, particularly for wine, as tastes change.
South Korea’s alcohol market is similarly beer and spirits heavy. Soju and beer—enjoyed both together and mixed—are a staple of the county’s post-workday bar and restaurant scene. Wines are being readily taken up by young Koreans, many rejecting options closely associated with older generations and a work-life culture often at odds with their own aspirations.
In China, the largest alcohol market in Asia, beer and spirits dominate as do large local and international brands. This is changing, starting with large cities, with more people taking up grape wines, new beer flavors, whiskey, and other imported spirits. Year-on-year growth of imported alcohols remains well into the double digits.
Beer is the tipple of choice in Taiwan. Consumers are moving away from basic lagers, adding flavorful ales, IPAs, wheats, and stouts. In spirits, baijiu is giving way to whiskies, gins, liqueurs, and other imported options. Similarly, wine is growing in popularity, particularly among the young.
Pilsners and other lagers are popular in Singapore yet ales, stouts and other beers—already common—continue to take market share. Cognac is top among spirits but whiskey, gin, and liqueurs are making headway. Singapore is a good market for wines, from entry to premium.
Hong Kong & Macau
British-style pubs remain a hallmark of Hong Kong’s after-hours life in the core business district with drinkers happy to enjoy diverse flavors of beers. Wine and liquors are more heavily dominated by imported options—particularly whiskey, vodka, and gin—making it a good destination for brands seeking expansion opportunities.
Rising incomes are pushing a shift away from basic beer options towards mid-market and premium drafts as well as higher ABV and stronger flavor offerings. Like much of Asia, cognac is the most popular spirit, but tipplers are taking up whiskey and much else in addition to increased interest in grape wines. This trend will accelerate as incomes continue to grow.
Indonesia stands out in Asia for the strong preference among consumers for wines. These have been shaped by culture, history, and religion in the highly populous archipelago country. Still demand for beer and spirits is growing along with incomes and awareness of other options.
Markets more familiar to foreign brands inside and outside of Asia, such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan remain excellent expansion targets for purveyors of spirits, beers, liqueurs, and wines alike, yet the future engine of growth for the sector in Asia will come from the region’s low and middle-income markets, such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Growth in these markets is only just beginning with considerable room for high-powered year-on-year growth before they mature.
Even high single-digit year-on-year growth for the alcohol sector in each of these markets hides strong double-digit growth in emerging non-indigenous categories in spirits (e.g. whiskey), beer (e.g. IPA), liqueurs, and grape wines. The future is bright for brands that get in on the ground floor with a sound long-term strategy paired with appropriate investment and appreciation for the often subtle, yet important, differences both between and within these markets.