Coffee attacks traditional tea market
By Lee Hyo-sik
These days, it is hard to find decent places that offer genuine green tea and other home-grown traditional teas. But in contrast, coffee shops are ubiquitous here, reflecting the increasing appetite Koreans have for a cup of freshly-brewed, premium coffee.
On the back of its health benefits, green tea and products containing it sold like hot cakes up until mid-2005, before the coffee craze swept through Asia’s fourth largest economy.
Over the past few years, the number of coffee houses affiliated with both local and foreign franchises has increased at an explosive pace across the country, capitalizing on the love affair Koreans have with the black beans, which has adversely dampened the consumption of green tea. Meanwhile, coffee shops have emerged as a popular gathering place for people of any age.
Food and beverage industry watchers say the growing popularity of coffee will inevitably lessen the consumption of green tea.
They say this follows the worldwide trend of people drinking more coffee than tea and other traditional substitutes because of its ever increasing availability and lowering prices.
It is projected that coffee consumption in Korea and other countries will continue to rise, while that of green tea and other types of tea will either stagnate or decline.
According to Amore Pacific, one of the country’s green tea product manufacturers, the market, including green tea bags and beverages, peaked at 250 billion won in 2004. Since then, the sector has declined on the growing popularity of coffee and other substitute drinks. In 2011, it was estimated to be about 200 billion won.
``There are several routes through which green tea reaches consumers. Among them, large discount store chains and supermarkets sold green tea bags and other goods worth 80 billion won last year,’’ an Amore Pacific spokeswoman said. ``Tea bags accounted for 60 percent of the total. Of that, Amore and Dongsuh accounted for over 70 percent.’’
E-Mart, the country’s largest discount store chain, said the sales of green tea and beverages containing it dropped 9.5 percent in the first five months of the year, while that of coffee beans, instant coffee mix and coffee-containing beverages soared 14.7 percent.
Booming coffee market
In contrast, the size of the coffee market was estimated at 4.4 trillion won in 2011, according to market research AC Nielsen Korea.
Instant coffee mix makers sold products worth 1.1 trillion won, with coffee beverage makers earning 870 billion won. Franchised and independent coffee houses made a combined 2.4 trillion won.
``It is a global trend that the consumption of coffee outpaces that of green tea and other types of tea. It is happening in China, England and India, the world’s three largest tea consuming nations,’’ a Starbucks Korea spokeswoman said. ``Now, the Chinese, the English and Indians drink more coffee than their traditional drinks.’’
She said coffee appeals to people of any age because they can easily drink a cup of coffee whenever they want to and wherever they are. ``Thanks to the ubiquitous coffee chains, Koreans can drink coffee any time they want to. In particular, youths have become the main group of coffee drinkers, meaning that consumption will continue to remain high.’’
Unlike green tea, a wide range of beverages can be created with coffee. ``Coffee houses have introduced an array of coffee-containing drinks, helping to boost coffee consumption. Additionally, aggressive marketing activities by coffee franchises, instant coffee makers and confectionary firms have upped the consumption,’’ the spokeswoman said.
Long way to go for green tea
However, green tea has lost traction among Koreans over the past few years, despite its widely-known health benefits, she said.
``To enjoy green tea in a traditional manner, it costs substantially more than coffee. Besides, green tea bags and several green-tea containing beverages, there aren’t many ways to drink it. This has led to the decline in green tea consumption,’’ the spokesman said.
According to Amore Pacific, an average Korean consumed 83 grams of green tea in 2003 but this amount fell to 67 grams in 2009.
``Green tea consumption has dropped over the years as people opt to drink coffee. We will introduce new green tea products that appeal to the public, as well as launch effective marketing activities to publicize how beneficial it is to human health,’’ the company said.