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Japan-South Korea rift

South Korean supermarkets shelve orders of Japanese beer

Inventories pile up as boycott over Tokyo trade curbs weighs on sales

South Korean consumers have steered clear of Japanese beer at supermarkets including this store run by Lotte Shopping in Seoul. (Photo by Kenichi Yamada)

SEOUL -- Two major South Korean supermarket operators have halted orders of beer from Japan amid a boycott of Japanese goods, the latest sign that the feud between the two countries is changing consumer habits.

Lotte Shopping and Emart suspended orders from six Japanese beer makers, including market leader Kirin Brewery, as of Friday, according to people familiar with the two retailers.

Their decisions come as inventories of unsold beer are rising. Emart said sales of Japanese beer fell roughly 30% from July 1 to July 22 compared with the same period in June.

"Our ordering system has temporarily suspended orders based on our stocking rules," an Emart representative said. Lotte Shopping gave a similar rationale.

Some Emart locations offered a 50% discount on Japanese beer in an effort to clear out excess inventory, but stopped after customers accused them of siding with Tokyo. The stores apologized for their "inappropriate actions."

The consumer boycott against Japanese goods began in response to Tokyo's new restrictions on exports of crucial chipmaking materials to South Korea.

Beer is considered an easy target for South Korean boycotts when anti-Japan sentiment flares up, in part because it is relatively cheap. While big South Korean supermarkets have distanced themselves from the current campaign, many smaller chains and convenience stores have embraced it, pulling Japanese products from their shelves.

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