By Park Si-soo

A citron-flavored soju with lower alcohol content is taking the Korean liquor market by storm, selling more than 15 million bottles in only a month after its debut in March.

But the supply of Soonhari Chum Churum (meaning “soft, like first” in Korean) is far short of demand, forcing major retailers to limit how much customers can buy.

Lotte Chilsung Beverage, its producer, recently expanded production to meet soaring demand, but market observers said the shortage would continue for a while.

“We are trying to meet rising demand, but it’s not easy,” a Lotte spokesman said Sunday.

The company produces Soonhari Chum Churum around the clock at its plants in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, and Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, he said.

The new soju has an alcohol content of 14 percent, about 3 percentage points lower than other soju brands, and its typical “bitter” taste has been diluted with citron extracts.

“The product has an especially strong appeal to women who love to drink cocktail-style, light alcoholic beverages,” the spokesman said.

Its taste is similar to vodka-based cocktails with citron flavors, but its price is a little different from other soju.

The wholesale price of Soonhari Chum Churum is about 960 won a bottle, 12 won higher than ordinary soju, according to Lotte.

The company does not have immediate plans to export the product, but will consider this when the local supply-demand balance is stabilized, the spokesman said.

Experts say Soonhari Chum Churum’s success reflects the rising popularity of low-alcohol drinks.

Many makers of whisky and other liquors recently introduced low-alcohol products to follow the trend.

In March, Scotch whisky maker Diageo launched a spirit drink called “W Ice by Windsor” in Korea Its alcohol content is 35 percent, compared with 40 percent for conventional Scotch whisky.

Last year, the nation’s biggest soju maker, Hite Jinro, lowered the alcohol in its best-selling product, “Chamisul,” to 17. 8 percent from 18.5 percent.

SOURCE: The Korea Times