The number of people who have stopped eating meat and gone on a vegetarian diet is steadily increasing due to the growing interest in environmental protection and health. The size of the global vegetarian market last year was estimated at US$ 7.4 billion. In the US, India, Singapore, and several other countries, vegetarians take up over 10% of the total population. To keep up with the vegetarian trend, MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) and aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation) hosted the Singapore Vegetarian Buyers Export Conference.
The first of its kind, the event invited Singaporean buyers to the aT Center in Seoul on May 29 for the purpose of advancing Korean products to the emerging vegetarian food market. Below are details of the conference along with promising Korean vegetarian products and excerpts from interviews with buyers who attended the conference.
# Details of Singapore Vegetarian Buyers Export Conference
◎ 35 Companies Participate in Korea's First Vegetarian Food Export Conference
The conference brought together 24 Korean food exporters and 11 Singaporean buyers. It exhibited a variety of Korean vegetarian products and gave each Korean participant several opportunities to discuss the prospects of their products in the Singaporean market.
◎ Dried Chips and Bugak Attract Attention of Singaporean Buyers
Among various products exhibited at the conference, dried fruit and vegetable chips were the most popular. Bugak, a traditional Korean snack similar to dried chips, also attracted great interest from buyers. Also favorable was the buyers’ response to seonsik (grain powder) and cereal bars, both of which can be used as a meal substitute. All these products are similar in that they are good not only for vegetarians but also for general consumers interested in a healthy diet.
Other vegetarian food products such as a bibimbap burger (without meat or eggs), vegan dumplings, soy “meat,” and vegetarian cookies were also on display and well-received by buyers.
◎ US$ 6.5 Million in Potential Exports…Buyers’ Visits to Vegetarian Food Production Sites
The conference was a big success, despite being the first such attempt. Many promising Korean products received a great deal of attention, and 98 potential contracts with a total value of US$ 6.5 million were negotiated. After the consultations, the buyers visited production sites where they were able to observe the processes of making rice bread, vegetable cookies, and Korean sauces.
# Perfect for the Tastes of Vegetarians! Korea Agrafood Recommends Wholesome and Delicious Korean Vegetarian Products
Bugak is a traditional Korean snack made by applying a thin layer of glutinous rice paste onto trimmed vegetables and seaweeds, and then drying and frying them in oil. Only natural ingredients without artificial additives or preservatives are used such as dried seaweed, carrot, chili pepper, and lotus root. Although there are differences by product, the snack is generally low in calories (50 to 90 kcal per 30 g) and contains merely 2 to 5 % saturated fat on average. Thanks to these strengths, bugak is known overseas as a “vegan snack from Korea.”
- Rice Crackers
Rice is a gluten-free food rich in proteins, vitamins, and dietary fiber. It also has a high digestion-absorption rate and is thus effective in preventing obesity, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes. Most of Korean rice crackers are made with organic rice or rice grown free of agricultural chemicals. Similar to other types of crackers, rice crackers are crunchy but taste lighter and are more flavorful. Since they do not use milk or eggs, vegetarians can eat them with peace of mind.
- Dried Fruit Chips
Dried fruit chips retaining the original sweetness and shape of fruits are a perfect choice for health-conscious people. Made by freeze-drying fruits without artificial sweeteners or other chemical additives, dried fruit chips preserve the original nutrients of fruits including vitamins and dietary fiber. Since they come in a great variety—strawberry, apple, tangerine, kiwi, and many more—vegetarians have a lot of options to choose from.
# What Singaporean Buyers Think About Korean Vegetarian Products
- Seahkim Choon, CEO of A-One European Products Pte. Ltd.
"At the conference, I was surprised by the unexpectedly large number of vegetarian foods Korea can offer. As a vegetarian myself, I was especially interested in seonsik which can be used as a light substitute for meals. It is made with wholesome grains and seems to be easy to carry during the day as many seonsik products come in small packages.
"Many Singaporeans, even if they are not vegetarians, tend to eat vegetarian dishes in nearby restaurants for one or two days a week for their health. I think many Singaporeans are not aware of Korean vegetarian food, so it is important, at this point, to make consistent efforts to improve the level of awareness of Korean vegetarian food products by supplying them to restaurant chains or hotel restaurants in Singapore.
- Lee Jong-geun, CEO of LNC Pte. Ltd.
"Bugak, dried fruit chips, veggie cookies, and seaweed snacks shall be great for vegetarians. They are convenient, and I believe they will receive favorable responses from Singaporean consumers, if well promoted. The greatest challenge, however, is the relatively low level of awareness. Korean exporters need to tackle it by harnessing the power of the Korean Wave such as popular Korean dramas and K-pop.
"Singapore has a large population of foreigners, so exporters will need to provide product labels in English and Chinese in addition to Korean. Also, over 70% of the Singaporean population is ethnic Chinese, and they tend to pay scrupulous attention to the expiration dates of food products. For this reason, it is better to offer products with long expiration dates.
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