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Home drinkers need some snacks

Mar 26,2019
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A customer at Emart’s Seongsu branch in eastern Seoul selects snacks in the beer aisle. [EMART]
With the rising popularity of drinking at home, retailers are starting to treat finger food with more respect.

The time-honored Korean custom of drinking multiple rounds in groups from work or college in bars and restaurants is giving way to people drinking at home - often alone. Discount chain Emart sees business potential.

Recently, it embarked on a new strategy to display alcohol and snacks side by side to create some synergy.

For more than a decade, Emart strictly segregated alcohol beverages and snacks. But starting from last week, the 26-year-old discount chain has been experimenting on a new display format that breaks down that barrier.

At Emart’s main Seongsu branch, eastern Seoul, aisles of alcoholic beverages also displayed anju, or snacks and finger food that go well with booze.

Around 5 percent of the foreign beer aisle was filled with nacho chips, dipping sauce and sausages, which Emart explained were chosen to cater to the 20s and 30s age group that likes foreign beers. In the soju and sake corner, the company displayed strips of packaged fish jerky or cheese. Likewise, the liquor corner had beef jerky displayed.

Emart says the strategy already proved effective. Earlier this month, the company selected 13 stores where it placed packages of dried pollack, a steady-selling anju, in alcohol aisles.

During three days of the test, the 13 stores saw dried pollack sales rocket 249 percent compared to the same period last year. The number of customers who purchased both alcohol and dried pollack rose 198 percent year on year.

The company saw similar results when they placed cockles in the wine aisle. Vice versa, displaying alcohol in seafood aisles also pulled up sales for both, Emart said.

“Behind the arrangement change was our judgment that drinking at home is not a temporary trend but a larger shift that touches the entire retail industry,” the company said. Emart plans to expand such displays to other branches in the future.

Convenience stores are also benefiting from home drinkers. CU and 7-Eleven both reported around 50 percent year-on-year increases for cold anju last year. GS25 said anju sales jumped a twofold between 2016 and 2018.

To win over customers, the three chains have embarked on a fierce competition to develop drinking snacks suitable for microwave ovens.

This month, CU released instant fried dumplings that contain sauce from the famous Buldak Bokkeummyeon noodles. GS25 collaborated with a meat restaurant chain run by celebrities Haha and Kim Jong-kook to develop instant chicken and pork dishes. In November, 7-Eleven presented kimchi pancakes.

“The reason refrigerated anju dishes are on the rise is because drinking at home is no longer about filling a craving for alcohol but more about satisfying one’s tastes,” CU said. “This is why customers look for diverse anju and alcohol that can meet their personal preferences.”


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]