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Asian Booze Brands Outsell Western Alcohol

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on August 07, 2008

Here’s quick quiz for all you tipplers out there: name the two top selling liquor brands in the world. Here’s a hint—they both hail from Asia, at least according to London-based IWSR , a wine and spirit research and consultancy firm. The gold medal goes to Korea’s Jinro soju, which racked up sales of 72 million cases of the fiery liquor. Second place went to Ruang Kao’s 33 million cases of its Thai white spirit distilled from molasses. [Diageo’s Smirnoff Vodka was third with 23.7 million cases. ]

In all, Asian spirits accounted for six of the top 10 best sellers, including Bagpiper Scotch bottled by United Breweries of India, and San Miguel Gin from the Philippines. For more on global patterns in hooch swilling, see this story by Nick Passmore.

Surprised? I didn’t even know San Miguel made gin, and though I’ve heard of Bagpiper Scotch, I had no idea it was so widely embraced in the sub-continent. And none of these brands has the remotest connection to the Olympics –though three beer brands, Tsingtao, Budweiser and Yanjing are official sponsors at the Beijing Games—they are clearly outselling international brands with very little big budget marketing.

Sure, brands like Johnnie Walker Red Label and Hennessey Cognac are de rigueur on the wedding banquets and business dinner tables of Asia’s emerging middle classes. And chuppies in Shanghai or buppies in Mumbai want their Cosmopolitans made with Smirnoff. But this report reminds us that the bulk of the serious drinking is getting done by farmers and factory workers wetting their whistles with cheap local stuff with a kick like a mule and costs a fraction of the fancy- schmancy international brands.

Unfortunately, these local joy juices also take a much higher toll on people’s livers and hearts, so the public health implications about the rapid growth in consumption will be a major challenge for Asia’s governments going forward.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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