Category on the Rise: Soju
Stocking popular brands and flavors in this small but quickly growing category can help draw in new consumers
While it gets less attention and holds a much smaller share of sales than the major spirit categories, soju is a growing category that offers an opportunity to draw in customers. To do so, however, requires understanding soju, the top brands in the category, and the SKUs to focus on among the many available flavors and varieties.
A Small but Growing Category
In 2021, soju accounted for 0.2 percent of the liquor category, up from 0.1 percent in 2020—a 100 percent increase year-over-year, though it still holds a small percentage of overall sales. Overall, soju is the 10th best-selling liquor category on Drizly, coming just after mezcal and before absinthe and non-alcoholic spirits. Though it is small, the category has seen strong growth, which makes it a category for producers and retailers to keep an eye on moving into 2022.
In the United States overall, IWSR data shows that soju volume grew two percent CAGR from 2016 to 2020, and the category is forecasted to grow 0.4 percent volume CAGR from 2021 to 2025.
Soju primarily comes from South Korea and is historically made with rice, but sweet potatoes, tapioca, wheat, and other grains are commonly used today. In 2021, 97 percent of soju sold on Drizly is produced in South Korea, followed by two percent from Japan and one percent from the United States.
However, soju can be hard to compare to other liquor categories. “Soju differs from other liquor categories as it typically has lower ABV (20 to 25 percent versus around 40 percent for other liquors), however it has a higher ABV than other flavored products like hard seltzer and RTDs,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “The category remains small, so we have not seen signs of soju taking share from other categories, but it could be something to keep an eye on in the future.”
What sets soju apart is also what makes the category an in-between for consumers looking for lower alcohol substitutes by, for example, swapping vodka for soju in cocktails like a Bloody Mary.
Recognized brands are important to soju sales on Drizly. Most of the top five soju brands on Drizly remained the same from 2020 to 2021, with the exception of Han Jan, which rose to number three from number eight, while TYKU moved from number three to number six. From six on, the brands that held the subsequent positions in the top 10 in 2020 were Yobo, Saan, Han Jan, Bekseju, and Tokki Soju.
Drizly’s Top-Selling Soju Brands, 2021
- Chum Churum
- Han Jan
- Jinro Is Back
- Good Day
- Soon Hari
Jinro has a firm number one position—the brand’s share in 2021 was over half of all soju sales on Drizly. The brand is not just popular among Drizly users—Jinro soju has topped the list of the top-selling spirits brands in the world, according to the IWSR.
“We have seen a considerable increase in the number of soju SKUs over the past year in particular,” says Mark Roy, the spirits marketing and sales specialist at the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, which has 67 liquor and wine outlets. Jinro and Han Jan are carried at the stores, and Roy notes that the NHLC adjusts selection based on performance and demand.
The top four soju SKUs on Drizly remained the same in 2020 as in 2021. Jinro Chamisul Strawberry Soju rose to number five from number seven, however, and number eight through 10 in 2020—Jinro 24 Soju, Chum Churum Original Soju, and Chum Churum Strawberry Soju, respectively—shifted or were replaced.
Drizly’s Top-Selling Soju SKUs, 2021
- Jinro Green Grape Soju
- Jinro Grapefruit Soju
- Jinro Chamisul Fresh Soju
- Chum Churum Peach Soju
- Jinro Chamisul Strawberry Soju
- Chum Churum Apple Soju
- Chum Churum Original Soju
- Jinro Chamisul Plum Soju
- Jinro Chamisul Classic Soju
- Soon Hari Yogurt Soju
“Based on the top 10 best-selling soju SKUs on Drizly, it is clear that consumers have interest across many different flavors in this category,” says Paquette. ”However, if retailers are just starting to stock Soju, we recommend focusing on the top selling flavors like grape, grapefruit, and fresh.”
Who Is Drinking Soju?
Relative to overall sales on Drizly, New York City, Boston, and San Francisco are the markets that over-index on soju sales. Regardless of location, younger consumers are key to soju sales.
“Gen Z, the youngest generation of drinkers, has been driving the soju growth,” says Paquette. In 2021, Gen Z consumers accounted for 29 percent share of soju sales despite accounting for just five percent share of total sales on Drizly. Millennials held 57 percent, while Gen X and baby boomers held 11 and three percent, respectively.
October was the top-selling month for soju last year and July held the lowest share. Still, Paquette says, “the overall share was relatively stable throughout the year and does not appear to be impacted significant seasonal shifts.”
Future Soju Sales Potential
Keeping up with the most popular of the various soju flavors is important when considering which SKUs to stock to best prepare a shop for the future.
“We keep all the flavors in stock and in good supply, as we have noticed over the past few years that this has been a growing segment,” says Ryan Kadota of Kadota Liquor in Hilo, Hawaii, which carries nine fruit flavors along with the regular sojus from Jinro and Soon Hari.
Kadota adds that while people in Hawaii are attuned to Korean culture, suppliers are key to helping with consumer recognition.
“Retailers should work with the suppliers, as I know there is always some swag out there,” says Kadota. “Tastings help too. The low cost to entry per bottle and shelf stability make it a great item for sales.”