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F&B

Korea’s F&B exports to surpass $4.5 billion in 2021

From seaweed snacks to soju and kimchi-flavored tuna, Korean F&B items gain popularity in Southeast Asia

By Jun 14, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Consumers checking out HiteJinro's fruit-flavored soju in Singapore
Consumers checking out HiteJinro's fruit-flavored soju in Singapore

South Korea’s food and beverage (F&B) exports set a new record in 2020 and are projected to rise even higher this year.

According to Korea Customs Service on June 14, the country’s F&B exports totaled $4.28 billion last year, growing 14.7% from $3.73 billion in 2019.

The segment is still strong this year, recording $1.59 billion exports up to April. Industry analysts say the annual figure will likely surpass 5 trillion won ($4.47 billion) in 2021.

Korean F&B products enjoyed by international consumers have previously been limited to only a few well-known condiments and dishes such as kimchi, bulgogi (marinated beef BBQ) and bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetable bowl).

But thanks to the growing popularity of all things Korean in all corners of the world, industry experts say that the global community has been showing greater interest in Korean food and beverages. 

Korea’s largest kimchi producer Daesang Corp.’s has recently focused on exporting seaweed to Southeast Asia. While salted dried seaweed is typically consumed with white rice in Korea, Daesang noted that Indonesians eat seaweed as a snack.

Daesang, in partnership with a local brand Mamasuka, introduced a range of snack-sized seaweed products with flavor offerings not available in Korea such as Korean BBQ or salted egg flavors, as well as the original seaweed product made to eat with rice.

Thanks to the huge success of its products, Daesang now holds a 63% share of the seaweed market in Indonesia.

Daesang's Chung Jung One Mamasuka seaweed products sold in Indonesia offer flavors not offered in Korea, such as salted egg and Korean BBQ.
Daesang's Chung Jung One Mamasuka seaweed products sold in Indonesia offer flavors not offered in Korea, such as salted egg and Korean BBQ.

Dongwon F&B Co., the country’s largest producer of canned tuna, is also entering the Southeast Asian market with Dongwon Kimchi Tuna, which will also receive Halal certification, according to the company.

The Korean fried chicken franchise Chicken Plus, whose main menu includes chicken dishes and tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes), entered Malaysia in 2018. Now Chicken Plus also has franchises in China, Japan and Vietnam.

Tteokbokki captured the attention of BTS fans globally in recent years after multiple photos of its members eating the dish spread across social media.

BTS members eating tteokbokki and other Korean snacks
BTS members eating tteokbokki and other Korean snacks

In the beverage segment, Korea’s dominant soju industry leader HiteJinro Co. is leading the promotion of Korean drinks overseas.

Soju, ironically, was picked as the worst item among all Korean food and drinks last year when the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) conducted a comprehensive study involving 8,000 international consumers. Many said that soju lacks both an appealing odor and taste compared to drinks familiar to foreign consumers such as wine or whiskey.  

HiteJinro tackled the issue with fruit-flavored soju products, already a bit hit in Korea in 2015.

After introducing Jinro Grapefruit and other fruit-flavored soju items in Southeast Asia, HiteJinro said that the numbers indicate that more locals there are enjoying the drink.

According to the company’s analysis, only 24.5% of total soju consumption in Malaysia was by locals back in 2016, when the vast majority was still consumed by overseas Koreans at Korean restaurants. HiteJinro says that the figure rose to 82.7% last year, meaning eight out of every 10 soju bottles were drunk by locals in Malaysia.

Write to Jong-kwan Park at pjk@hankyung.com

Daniel Cho edited this article.

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