SEOUL, KOREA — Korean food is riding on the coattails of the Korean wave, or Hallyu.
Backed by the popularity of K-pop, Korean food is venturing out into the global market. Against this backdrop, Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp. (aT) is launching a slew of promotional activities to expedite the global spread of Korean food along with Korean culture. In early October, aT appointed Korean pop girl group, Kara(in Japan and Southeast Asian nations), and Korean actress, Seo-hee Jang(in China) as K-food ambassadors with the hope of incrasing the exports of Korean food at the tail of the Korean wave. On October 9, aT hosted the Buy Korean Food Autumn 2012 (BKF), a food trade fair designed to provide opportunities for Korean exporters to meet international buyers of K-food.
Mi-jung Yun, Deputy Director at Publication Team of aT, said, “Buy Korean Food Autumn 2012 (BKF) will lay the groundwork for expanding K-food exports, and contribute to juicing up the global appeal of K-food.”
Nearly 135 overseas buyers from 26 nations (including Ito-Yokado (a Japanese general merchandise store) and supermarket chain RT-Mart (China)) participated in the BKF 2012. On top of this, 50 influential international buyers from the Middle East and South American nations, where there is a growing interest in Korean food, were newly invited as aT sought to diversify K-food export markets. 170 Korean food exporters including Saongwon, Morning Farm, and Korea Ginseng Corporation participated in the BKF 2012 and held one-on-one consultations with overseas buyers.
Also, an FTA consultation center was run to offer FTA-related advice to Korean exporters. In addition, to promote Korea’s agriculture and fishery products, pavilions showcasing new products and exhibition halls for participating exporter’s products were established. Furthermore, as Korea ginseng is now classified as food rather than medicine in China, a pavilion dedicated to Korea ginseng was also installed to target buyers from China.
K-Food and K-Style Bask in Global Attention
The craze around South Korean rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" is so contagious that even Korean food increasingly finds favor with global consumers. On September 21, the Daily Telegraph (Australia) reported that the fervent popularity of Psy’s “Gamgnam Style,” and Psy’s visit to Australia rekindled Australians’ interest in Korea and its food. Such a phenomenon is also being witnessed in other nations. Global fans’ love of Psy is translating into growing interests in Korea and various aspects of Korean cultures. New export markets such as South America and the Middle East, where Korean food had been rarely demanded, are increasingly importing K-food.
Exports of Korean food have continued to climb over 8 % since 2009. This year, Korea aims to hit the 10 billion mark in K-food exports. However, the food industry has entered a new phase following the global pursuit of health and well being, and consumers’ heightened interest in food safety in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
Psy’s Gangnam Style has become a global sensation, thereby firing up the world’s interest in Korea and its food, Major markets like Japan and China are paying keen attention to safety-guaranteed premium food products. Such an elevated interest in Korean food was also felt at the BKF 2012. All of the buyers at the BKF 2012 underlined the potential of K-food.
China’s Growing Demand for Premium K-Food Products
Ms. Wang Hong (Purchase Manager at Jinan Headquarters of RT-Mart) was one of the overseas buyers who attended the BKF 2012. She has continually partaken in the BKF since 2009. RT-Mart, one of China’s top 3 distributors, is growing so fast that it finds it hard to keep track of the number of newly opened stores. RT-Mart, which opened nine new stores in Huabei alone this year, encompasses 30% of the five major regions in eastern China. As of now, RT-Mart is running 197 stores nationwide, where approximately 200 Korean food products are being sold.
Ms. Wang Hong said, “Though RT-Mart sells products imported from various countries, the most popular is definitely Korean food. In particular, Chinese consumers prefer red pepper paste, soybean paste, and soy sauce imported form Korea. Thus, selling Korean products featuring traditional value will be more profitable in the Chinese market.” She advised that Korea should intensively market premium products in emerging, affluent regions, such as the Huadong region, Anhui Province, Zhejiang province, and Shanghai. Ms. Wang Hong added, “Since K-food products have a competitive edge in terms of price, things are looking up for them. Besides, Korean products have been well received by Chinese consumers, China’s demand for K- food products will continue to rise over the next 5 to 10 years.”
Japanese Consumers Are Keen on Food Safety
Hyong-pyo Kim (Deputy Director of aT Center Tokyo) mentioned, “Japan’s radiation scare on the heels of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has led to growing interests in K-food imports. Above all, Korean oysters, abalones, and tuna are in high demand in Japan. Deputy Director Kim continued, “As food safety is of primary concern to Japanese consumers, Korea is considering the expansion of the ID system (a tracking system designed to offer information on the country of origin of agricultural products) to Korean fishery products.” As the Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare of Japan has faith in Korea’s agriculture ID system, the introduction of this ID system to fishery products is expected to create synergetic effects.
Halal Certification Holds the Key to K-Food’s Smooth Entry into the Islamic Market
Matthew Lee (Managing Director of KMT Trading Sdn. Bhd.), who flew in from Malaysia to attend the BKF 2012, said, “As the Korean wave is also sweeping through Malaysia, Malaysia’s imports of Korean food have been on an upward trajectory. In the capital city of Kuala Lumpur alone, nearly 200 Korean restaurants are busy serving local people Korean dishes. Recently, Malaysia has set up Halal certification agencies in a bid to become a global hub for the production and trade of Halal products and services. As such, obtaining Halal certification is a must in breaking into the 1.35 billion-strong Islamic market.” Malaysia amended its Halal Act last year and will fully enforce the revised Halal Act next year. Consequently, Korean food exporters will take a knock as they have to have their products Halal-certified again. KMT is a specialized food distributor which supplies varied Korean foods, from fresh food to processed products, to the global market.