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Food exports

Startups spice up Korean food export market

By Feb 02, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Food Culture Lab created the world's first vegan kimchi seasoning, becoming a best-seller on Amazon.
Food Culture Lab created the world's first vegan kimchi seasoning, becoming a best-seller on Amazon.

South Korean startups are at the forefront of the Korean food export boom as they boost global awareness of popular dishes such as spicy fermented cabbage kimchi, marinated beef bulgogi, and sesame oil through innovative technology and fresh marketing methods.

In 2019, Food Culture Lab Co. launched its kimchi seasoning powder in the US via Amazon. The product topped the chili powder category just two weeks after its release and sold over 100,000 units in the first six months. It remains one of the best-selling chili powder products on the e-commerce platform.

The kimchi seasoning can be used on nachos, popcorn, pizza or any dish to add spicy heat. It was created in 2017 by Food Culture Lab to target Western markets where kimchi was gaining popularity as a probiotics-rich condiment.

The company's product is the world's first vegan kimchi seasoning as it does not include jeotgal, or salted anchovy. It's also easier on foreign palates, which may not be accustomed to the distinctive taste of jeotgal.

To create the seasoning, Food Culture Lab grinds the ingredients that go into kimchi, including red pepper powder and garlic. The ingredients then go through a heating process before being fermented. The seasoning also includes probiotics extracted from kimchi.

“The supply runs out quickly so we're planning to stock up around 10,000 units to sell on Amazon," said An Tae-yang, chief executive of Food Culture Lab. "We're also considering setting up a plant in the US thanks to its rising popularity," said An.

GoPizza's bulgogi pizza is a hit in India.
GoPizza's bulgogi pizza is a hit in India.


Meanwhile, another domestic startup, GoPizza Co., is driving exports of a non-Korean food item, pizza, by adding Korean flavors to the dish.

The company bakes pizza using its patented oven, Goven, which makes single-serving pizzas in just a few minutes. GoPizza has also developed an artificial intelligence smart topping table to streamline the pizza-making process and a robot that puts sauce on the pizza.

In 2019, GoPizza opened up its first overseas branch in Bengaluru, India. The restaurant offered traditional toppings, such as cheese and pepperoni, but also fresh recipes developed in Korea, such as bulgogi pizza and sweet potato pizza. Last October, the Bengaluru outlet reported the highest revenue of GoPizza's branches in India.

The Korean pizza company opened a branch in Singapore last April, which posted monthly revenue of 100 million won ($90,000) in December. Currently, the company operates 103 branches  worldwide.

“Bulgogi pizza is the most popular menu item with our overseas customers. Our company is contributing to the popularization of Korean food," said Lim Jae-won, the chief executive of GoPizza.

Queens Bucket exports sesame seed oil
Queens Bucket exports sesame seed oil

Queens Bucket is another Korean food startup to taste success, by exporting sesame oil and perilla oil using Korea-based raw materials. The company exports its products to various markets, including New York, Singapore and Taiwan.

Queens Bucket has seen its export volume jump 150% on a quarterly basis, thanks to its products becoming popular via word of mouth. The oils are also known to be used in Michelin-star restaurants in New York City, notably Daniel and Batard.

“Sesame oil has a flavor on par with olive oil and butter. It has the potential to emerge as a global food ingredient," said a Queens Bucket official.

Write to Min-ki Koo at kook@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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