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Building a K-Food Road in Southeast Asia

In Vietnam, Youtube videos of young consumers trying famously spicy Korean buldak-bokkeum-myeon (instant noodles with spicy chicken) are the talk of the town. In Thailand, an increasing number of consumers are fascinated with Korean strawberries. A growing number of halal-certified Korean products such as beverages and ramyeon (Korean-style instant noodles) are distributed in the rest of Southeast Asia, including the halal markets of Indonesia and Malaysia. These trends reflect a rise in the consumption of Korean food in the region. Korea Agrafood reports on the current situation of the distribution of Korean food products in Southeast Asia.

Riding on the Korean Wave, Korean Food Products Win the Hearts of Younger Generations in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is emerging as a new consumption market due to the region’s continuous economic growth, rapid urbanization, and the expansion of the middle class. Young people in the region are active users of the Internet and smartphones, and they tend to be open-minded towards foreign cultures and imported food. They take up over half of the total population of Southeast Asia, and are expected to grow into a major consumer group in the region.

Since the late 2000s, the Korean Wave (Korean popular culture products such as TV dramas and K-pop) has been forming a new culture among youngsters in Southeast Asia, leading to a rise of interest in Korean food culture and food products. Young Southeast Asians often look up information about ramyeon (instant noodles) and teokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) appearing on Korean dramas using the Internet on their smartphones and purchase, through online stores, Korean snacks they see on advertisements featuring Korean idol groups. Giving Korean strawberries as a present to a boyfriend or girlfriend and buying red ginseng to family members on special occasions have become a new fad in the region. Furthermore, many consumers share their experiences of tasting Korean food through social media such as Facebook and Youtube. Young Southeast Asians even visit Korea to taste Korean food at its country of origin.

In fact, the consumption of Korean food is steadily increasing in all major countries of the region. In Vietnam, one of Southeast Asian countries where the Korean Wave enjoys the highest popularity, the import of Korean food increased by staggering 227% in seven years, from US$ 153.13 million in 2010 to US$ 5 million last year. Among the top 15 importers of Korean food last year, six were Southeast Asian countries—Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and others.

Popular and Promising Korean Agriproducts and Dishes in Southeast Asia

▲ Hot Sellers
- Ramyeon

Ramyeon is the most popular Korean food product among young Southeast Asian consumers interested in the Korean Wave. Experiences of trying Korean ramyeon are often shared through social media. Previously, instant noodles in spicy red broth, such as kimchi-ramyeon, were most popular, but these days, the consumers are fascinated by ramyeon with unique flavors, such as buldak-bokkeum-myeon, cheese ramyeon, jjamppong-ramyeon (with the spicy Chinese-style seafood flavor), and sesame seed ramyeon.

- Processed Red Ginseng

Processed red ginseng products enjoy the continuous love of health-conscious consumers in Southeast Asia. A wide variety of products is popular, from red ginseng extract to powdered red ginseng tea and red ginseng candy. Many consumers purchase Korean ginseng products as luxury gifts. These days, red ginseng extract in single-serve stick-type packages, which appeared in the Korean TV drama “Descendants of the Sun," is receiving a great deal of attention from consumers in the region.

- Beverages

Boosted by the Korean Wave, the distribution of Korean beverages is in Southeast Asia is in full swing, mostly through large supermarkets and convenience stores. Korean fruit juices such as aloe, pear, and apple juices are often given as deluxe presents. Korean energy drinks are popular among young consumers in the region. Beverage products featuring famous Korean animation characters such as Pororo are receiving favorable responses in infant food markets in Southeast Asia.

Popular Dishes
- Tteokbokki

A Korean street food made with chewy rice cake and spicy gochujang (red pepper paste), tteokbokki is well-known to Southeast Asians through frequent appearances in Korean dramas and movies. A relatively lower price, compared to other Korean dishes, further contributes to its popularity. Several Korean tteokbokki franchises have advanced to major cities in the region, including Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and Bangkok. Cup-type instant tteokbokki products, which one can enjoy conveniently at any time, are sold in Korean food stores and large supermarkets throughout Southeast Asia.

Promising Products
- Strawberry

The Korean strawberry sells well in large supermarkets and high-end stores in Southeast Asia especially during the harvest season, from December to April of the following year. Thanks to its high sugar content, pretty shape, and high quality, the Korean strawberry has established itself as a premium fruit in the region. It is hugely popular as a Valentine’s Day gift in Thailand.

- Peach

Peaches in Korea are harvested mainly in the summer season, from June to August, and exported by air so they are delivered to Southeast Asia in the freshest condition. The biggest importers are Singapore and Malaysia, but the export market is expanding to include Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, and other countries.

Interview: What Southeast Asian Buyers Think About Korean Food Products
Vietnam: Nguyen Van Minh, CEO of Our Farm

"Young Vietnamese Are Interested in Ramyeon and Snacks Appearing in Korean Dramas"

The young generation in Vietnam, those who are interested in the Korean Wave and Korean culture, thinks highly of Korean food as well. They love Korean processed food products such as ramyeon, snacks, and ice cream that appear in Korean TV dramas. They are very open towards and curious about foreign food cultures. To increase the consumption of Korean food in Vietnam, I think it is important to continuously introduce the latest Korean food trends and new products to young consumers there, so that they do not lose their interest in Korean food.

Thailand: Rossukon Ittatirut, Managing Director of Prothai Co., Ltd.
"Korean Strawberry Is Popular as a Gift on Valentine's Day

An increasing number of Thai consumers are looking for Korean food products. These days, the demand for ramyeon, ice cream, and snacks is growing, and a dried seaweed snack appearing in an ad that features Psy (a famous Korean singer) is also popular. However, since the Thai government is tightening the clearance inspections for imported food products to ensure food safety, Korean exporters need to closely follow the regulations enforced by the Thai government.

Indonesia: Kevin Lee, Assistant Manager of MGH
"Halal-Certified Korean Food Is on the Rise"

Only a few years ago, Korean food products were consumed mostly by Korean residents in Southeast Asian countries. Now, more Korean food is purchased by local people than by Korean residents. Korean ramyeon and beverages, in particular, are receiving favorable responses from Indonesians, and the number of local people who look for Korean convenience food is growing. That is not only thanks to the Korean Wave but also because an increasing number of Korean products receive MUI (Majesta Ulama Indonesia) certifications. Thus, highlighting the halal certification marks on product packages can be an effective way to attract more interest from Indonesian consumers.

MAFRA and aT Are at the Vanguard of Cultivating Southeast Asian Markets for Korean Agriproducts
 

MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) and aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation) operate Korean pavilions at all major international food exhibitions held in Southeast Asia, including F&H Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), THAIFEX (Bangkok), and SIAL InterFood (Jakarta). Their goal is to introduce the latest Korean food trends and promote various Korean food products to Southeast Asian buyers. In addition, they host K-Food Fair series in Southeast Asian countries every year from 2013 to help strengthen the exchange between Korean food exporters and local buyers.

This year, MAFRA and aT opened antenna shops in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia to determine what products look promising for export. An MOU (memorandum of understanding) signed with 7-Eleven, a convenience store franchise, in Indonesia last March is expected to open the way for promising Korean food products into the country.

The two agencies are also making effort to pioneer the emerging markets in the region. They operated a Korean pavilion at Food & Hotel Myanmar, a food exhibition held last June, to promote Korean processed red ginseng, healthy beverages, and other products. Sampling events, organized at the exhibition to give its visitors a chance to try popular Korean dishes such as dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken) received favorable responses. In the meantime, MAFRA and aT dispatched Korean food market development teams to Cambodia and Laos to conduct promotional activities targeting local buyers.

* Helpful Info: Get Assistance from aT Centers in Southeast Asia for Advancing Korean Food Products to Local Markets

▲ aT Hanoi Center, Vietnam
-Tel: +84-4-6282-2987
–Fax: +84-4-6282-2989
-Email: hanoi@at.or.kr

▲ aT Jakarta Center, Indonesia
-Tel: +62-21-2995-9032~3
-Fax: +62-21-2995-9034
-Email: jakarta@at.or.kr

▲ aT Bangkok Center, Thailand
-Tel: +66-2611-2627~9 (Extension 12)
-Fax: +66-2611-2626
-Email: atcenterbkk@at.or.kr

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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