Thailand is one of the countries where the Korean wave is at its peak. Korean TV series and variety shows are very popular there. Thanks to the popularity of the Korean pop culture, a growing number of Thai consumers are showing interest in Korean food. In response to this trend, MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) and aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation) hosted a K-Food Fair in Bangkok on October 20 and 21 in Bangkok. This was the first time a K-Food Fair took place in Thailand.
The event was organized under the slogan “Stay Healthy with Delicious K-Food” and aimed to introduce the Thai people to some of the best Korean agri-products in terms of taste and health benefits. The fair was originally planned to include both a B2B event for local buyers and a B2C event targeting consumers. However, considering the atmosphere of the country mourning the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, it was decided to go on only with the B2B event.
A product introduction session took place on October 20 and was followed by an export consultation session on October 21. The one-to-one consultations attracted 23 Korean exporters and 56 importing companies and 77 individual buyers from Thailand, India, Myanmar, and Singapore. In addition to the product introduction session, foreign businessmen were able to learn more about Korean products through the showcases built around the venue.
The consultations proceeded vigorously. One buyer from LNC, a Singaporean food trading company selling Korean food, said, “There are so many new products that I wanted to meet all the Korean participants if time allowed.” Korean participant Bongchu Food System reportedly signed several export contracts on the spot with buyers from Thailand, India, Myanmar, and Singapore. Overall, it is estimated that the event resulted in $22.43 million worth of export consultations and $ 58.4 thousand worth of on-site contracts.
Seminars hosted on the same day as the consultation sessions discussed the topics of Thai customs clearance process for imported food, advice to Korean food businesses, status of imported food distribution in Thailand, and strategies to enter the Thai market. The Korean participants found the information they obtained through the seminars highly useful.
Opinions of Foreign Buyers on Korean Agri-food Products
# Teeraphong Twatwannaphong, Business Development Manager of Betagro and Sammy, Manager of Betagro
We came to the K-Food Fair looking for a new business item. Awareness of Korea and Korean food is growing among Thai consumers. Among consumers and distributors alike, Korean goods have an image of high-quality products. Korean seaweed and ramen have a competitive edge in Thailand. I personally think that kimchi and banana flavored milk are also promising.
I have no advice for the manufacturing process of Korean products because it is already very good. However, with regard to distribution, I would recommend that Korean companies raise brand awareness. They need to let consumers know their brands through promotional events with popular Korean stars. It is also important to come up with packages that can attract consumers. Consumers’ level of understanding will improve if more English is used on the product packaging instead of Korean.
#Nut Marston, Category Manager of Big C Supercenter Public co., ltd. and Watsama Srisawat Product Manager Ⅱ of Bic C Supercenter Public co., ltd.
Big C Supercenter carries many Korean agri-food products. The most popular item is ramen. Korean ramen has a better, chewier texture than Thai products. Seaweed snacks and Pepero cookies are also popular. Thanks to the Korean Wave, Korean food products sell in Thailand very well, so I came to the K-Food Fair to learn more about new and trendy products. I am most interested in ramen, pre-cooked food, fermented food, and diet food.
I think kimchi will be popular in Thailand in the future. Bibimbap and seolleongtang (ox bone soup) also have a growth potential. However, such products need to be adjusted to the Thai people’s taste and to come in single-serving packages. Korean fruits such as strawberries, pears, and tangerines are selling steadily, despite the relatively high price tags. Thai consumers associate Korean fruits with very high quality. I think Korean fruits are likely to sell even better in the future.
An interview with Song Mijeong, Managing Director of aT Bangkok office
Thailand is an attractive market for agricultural food exports. Products from different countries—Korea, Japan, the US, and many European nations—coexist there with Thai food. It is also an important stepping stone for expansion to neighboring Laos and Myanmar. However, this also means intensive competition. Song Mijeong, a managing director of aT Bangkok office, is well aware of such characteristics of the Thailand market. “More and more Thai consumers look for Korean agri-products, and we have seen an annual average growth rate of 33% between 2011 and 2015,” she said.
Along with the Korean Wave, another reason behind the growing popularity of Korean food in Thailand is the activities of aT. The agency organizes cooking classes and disseminates news on culinary events and Korean food culture using social media. aT hosted the “Find a K-food to Go with Beer” event linked with a fan meeting for Song Joongki, a hero of the TV series Descendents of the Sun in May and set up a new menu item launching event in cooperation with Tom and Tom’s Coffee when the latter started offering three ice-persimmon dishes in August. Ms. Song said, “Those who attended cooking classes are very interested in Korea, so it is a good venue to introduce Korean food and agri-products.” She went on to say, “We have more than 16,000 Facebook friends and many events going on.”
The K-Food Fair held on October 20 and 21 also reflected the growing popularity of Korean agri-products. The export consultations for buyers from Thailand, India, and Myanmar were worth US$ 22.43 million, and contracts worth US$ 58.4 thousand were signed on the spot. That is a remarkable accomplishment, especially for the first Korean food fair to be held in the country. Ms. Song noted, “Although we could not carry out experience activities for consumers, I believe the fair was of great help to Korean exporters eyeing the Thai market.”
aT Bangkok office is planning to focus on promoting Korean strawberries, which have earned significant popularity in Southeast Asia over the last few years. Ms. Song jokes, “aT can be nicknamed ‘Korea strawberry trade corporation’ because of how many related promotions we host.” She continues on a more serious note, “Korean strawberries are hot in Thailand, with the annual sales volume exceeding US$ 3 million.” The overall amount of Korean strawberry exports have soared between 2011 and 2015 by 155%, from US$ 1.29 million to US$ 3.094 million in 2015.
According to Ms. Song, Korean strawberries have the second largest share in the Thai market. Local consumers appreciate the high quality of the Korean product, and aT puts all its effort in promoting it during the high season, from December to April. She added, “The Korean strawberry is shipped via air freight so Thai consumers are able to buy it in the freshest condition.”
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