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Adieu 2016! K-Food’s Travels Around the GlobeThis Year’s Popular Korean Agriproducts by Export Market

Korean agriproducts have continued winning foreign consumers’ hearts this year, aided by the popularity of the Korean Wave (popular culture products such as K-pop and TV dramas, Descendants of the Sun, Love in the Moonlight, and so on). Awareness of Korean food and food culture has grown not only in neighboring China, Japan, and Southeast Asia but also in the relatively new markets of the Middle East and India as well as Brazil, the host of the 2016 Olympic Games and other countries of South and Central America.

MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) and aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp.) have organized a variety of promotional events to expand exports of Korean agricultural products around the world. The two agencies hosted the Global K-Food Fair (a series of large-scale promotional events for Korean food) in the regions considered as a blue ocean for Korean agriproducts—China’s inland areas, Southeast Asia, and halal markets. They also held promotions for Korean food in India and Iran. All of the events received positive responses from foreign buyers and consumers.

In addition, MAFRA and aT have promoted many different types of Korean agriproducts on famous foreign online shopping channels such as Tmall and Amazon. The two agencies have also spared no effort to remove non-tariff barriers in advanced markets of the US and Japan. 

As a result of these efforts, Korean rice and samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) were able to enter the Chinese market. Korean rice snacks and seaweed snacks have received a lot of attention in the US as wholesome munchies. Dangjo pepper (functional pepper) is about to be registered as a healthy functional food in Japan. Thanks to the Korean Wave, the consumption of kimchi has greatly increased in the UAE and other markets of the Middle East. Moreover, Michelin star chefs have devised several dishes using Korean ingredients, such as gochujang (red pepper paste) and Korean beef, and their creations have attracted a lot of interest from foreigners.

Below, Korea AgraFood would like to introduce you to this year’s most popular Korean agriproducts by region and to the promotional events that took place in the two largest export markets for Korean food, Japan and China.

□ Japan

The crispy bell pepper is becoming very popular among Japanese women, mainly in their 20s and 30s, as a salad ingredient. Compared to bell peppers exported to Japan by other countries, the Korean bell pepper receives a better response for its competitive price and high quality. It is also sweeter than its competitors, with the sugar content averaging 8.5°Bx. The Dutch pepper, for example, is 7.5-8°Bx, whereas the American bell pepper averages 6.5°Bx. Since the early 2000s, bell peppers from Korea have been occupying over 60 percent of the imported bell pepper market in Japan. Both buyers and consumers there give the Korean product favorable evaluations.

Taking note of the steady growth in the consumption of healthy functional foods by the elderly in Japan, MAFRA and aT this year have supported studies examining the Dangjo pepper’s efficacy in curbing the rise of blood sugar. Promotional events for the product are going to be held at big Japanese distributors. There is a high possibility that the Korean Dangjo pepper will be recognized by the Japanese authorities as a healthy functional food next year. 

Main Promotional Activities

To stimulate the consumption of Korean agriproducts in Japan, MAFRA and aT organized a Korean Pavilion at the FOODEX JAPAN 2016 fair last March, where they promoted a variety of Korean products―such as functional food and convenience food―to local buyers and other participants of the fair. In May, the two agencies opened a gallery for makgeolli (Korean rice wine) in Koreatown located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Furthermore, the K-Food Festa was held in Tokyo and Osaka for the first time in November. It included both B2B export consultations and B2C food experience events.

□ China

Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is one of the dishes Chinese tourists look for on their trips to Korea. Made with a variety of healthy ingredients (ginseng, jujube, garlic, and so on), it is a nourishing dish with ample protein and collagen. Representatives of the Chinese government visited 14 Korean samgyetang exporters in January to carry out on-the-spot inspections, and Korean samgyetang packaged in pouches has been steadily supplied to China since the first half of this year.

Korean baby foods—snacks and beverages, seasoned seaweed and fish sausages—are in the spotlight in China. They are actively sold in local department stores, supermarkets, and online shopping malls. These products are particularly popular with the Chinese middle class and high-income group thanks to the merits of using natural ingredients, high food safety, and sophisticated design.   


Main Promotional Activities
MAFRA and aT hosted K-Food Fairs in China’s inland cities, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Wuhan. They also participated in the SIAL CHINA 2016 (the country’s largest international food fair) in May. Their main focus was on promoting promising products such as samgyetang, kimchi, processed rice products, and dried jujube snacks. In addition, the two agencies hosted a seminar and promotion events for Korean baby formula, targeting expecting mothers, and a large-scale tasting event of Korean samgyetang for Chinese football fans (Qiumi; 球迷). All these initiatives received good responses from Chinese consumers.

Furthermore, MAFRA and aT opened a mobile shopping mall “The King of Korean Cuisine (韩食王)” in October as a stepping stone into the Chinese mobile market.

Korean enoki mushrooms were recently exported to China’s western inland areas for the first time, thanks to the support of the aT Qingdao Distribution Center.

□ Southeast Asia

The popularity of Korean strawberries is rising in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries of Southeast Asia. Local large distributors, high-end supermarkets, and department stores sell mainly the Korean winter strawberry varieties of Maehyang and Seolhyang between December and May of the following year. The consumers appreciate the Korean strawberry for its sweetness, nice shape, and high quality. The fruit is expected to become the next bestseller.

Korean convenience food products, which can be made into a meal by heating in a microwave, are also garnering much attention from Southeast Asian buyers. Thanks to the Korean Wave, more and more people there are interested in Korean cuisine, and the consumption of Korean convenience food products that one can easily cook at home has been rising. Particularly well-received in the region are spicy tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake), gimmari fritter (deep-fried seaweed rolls), and low-calorie rice noodles.

Sweet persimmons, traditional Korean sauces, makgeolli (Korean rice wine), and ice cream are also selling well.

□ The Middle East

The Korean Wave has brought a rise in interest in the Korean food culture and consumption of kimchi in the Middle East. Several halal-certified kimchi products have recently entered the local markets. Consumers of the Middle East especially enjoy white kimchi (which is not spicy), bite-sized mat-kimchi (sliced kimchi), and crunchy kkakdugi (radish kimchi).

A variety of Korean noodle products―instant ramen, plain noodles, glass noodles, etc.―are actively sold in major cities, such as Dubai and Riyadh (the capital of Saudi Arabia). Instant ramen is particularly popular with local consumers because of its spicy soup and chewy noodles. Kimchi ramen, vegetable ramen, and extremely spicy chicken ramen are also receiving positive responses. Plain noodles and glass noodles are the choice of fans of Korean traditional dishes.

□ North, Central, and South America

Low-calorie food made with natural ingredients is what many consumers in North America (the US and Canada) are looking for. Korean rice snacks and seaweed snacks are capitalizing on that interest. They are sold at local large-scale discount stores and famous franchises such as Costco and Starbucks. Korean rice snacks have an advantage of being gluten-free, having ample nutrition, and preventing obesity. Korean seaweed snack is in the limelight as a nutritious snack for children because it is in low in calories but savory and crispy.  

Several reasons account for the great popularity of Korean aloe beverages among North American consumers. First, unlike many other aloe beverages, the Korean products are made only with natural organic aloe. Second, the aloe gel contents lets the consumer enjoy the best part of aloe to the maximum. Furthermore, the beverages stimulate consumers' curiosity by adding the fun of chewing aloe to the drinking sensation.

□ Europe

Korean king oyster mushrooms are actively exported by air to the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and many other European countries. They are used as an ingredient for many dishes, including pasta, thanks to its chewy texture, unique flavor, and high food safety.

Frozen mandu (dumplings) have recently become a hot-seller. Local people call them a “healthy frozen food” because the Korean dumplings are made with healthy ingredients such as vegetables and tofu. The ease of cooking is another merit of Korean frozen products. Most popular among the Korean dumplings distributed in Europe are spicy kimchi mandu.

Coffee products, seasoned seaweed, and frozen manila clam are also exported to Europe in large quantities.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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