By Shin Hyun-gon
News that Korean food including instant noodles, kimchi, ginseng and sauces and pastes are gaining a sensational popularity in overseas markets is announced almost every day, which demonstrates the potential strength of Korean agricultural products and food or so-called "K-food."
In fact, about $4.6 billion worth of K-food was exported abroad as of August, which is approximately a 5 percent year-on-year increase.
There is a great growth especially in the export of kimchi, noodles and sauces and pastes by item, and an about-20-percent rise in exports to the United States, Australia and India. In particular, the growth in the U.S. market is noteworthy.
The export of K-food increased by 29 percent year-on-year. This increase has all the more significance in that the major consumer segment there has changed from the Asian and Hispanic communities to the mainstream community there.
Behind this success is the big hit of Korean pop culture, the so-call Korean wave. One of the regions in which the Korean wave is surging the highest is the new southern region including member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India.
As "Itaewon Class," a Korean drama, hit the region early this year, even Koreans residing in the region couldn't find kimchi and gochujang (red pepper paste) locally.
With the huge popularity of Korean pop culture setting a foothold, a reinforced contactless marketing strategy taken in quick response to the environmental changes brought in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak has also contributed to the growing popularity of K-food abroad.
The Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT) organized an agricultural food export response team immediately after COVID-19 arrived in Korea and took measures for potential damage to Korean agricultural exporters by providing them with transport and financial support.
In addition, it has focused on a way to discover alternative businesses that are relatively safe for continuing overseas marketing activities.
It also held an online export consultation meeting for small and medium-sized exporting companies whose opportunities to participate in international exhibitions had been canceled and, by doing so, was able to connect some 206 domestic exporters to 158 buyers in 10 countries between April and July this year.
The participants looked a bit unfamiliar in front of their monitors for video conferences they first encountered. But, soon after, they enthusiastically introduced and explained their products to buyers on the screen, demonstrating how desperate they are to overcome this difficult situation brought on by the villainous virus.
Further, the rapid growth of online shopping has become a new opportunity for K-food. The biggest users of online shopping ― although there has been a new influx of middle-aged consumers ― are young people who are more open-minded to and curious about new food.
K-food made forays into world-famous online shopping malls such as Amazon for extensive promotion. In the meantime, some Korean food items appeared on Wang Hong live shows in China.
In fact, 50,000 bottles of Korean citron tea were sold out just in one minute through a Wang Hong live show, and this strategy turned out to be effective.
The contactless trend started from online shopping prevails now. It has pervaded all parts of our lives from cultural life including enjoying concerts and the performing arts to food delivery and so-called home training, while changing everyday life of consumers thoroughly.
The aT has worked hard to secure spots for Korean agricultural products on delivery apps that are locally popular in foreign countries, and conducted some promotional events that recommend Korean food as healthy when famous fitness trainers give viewers online home-training lectures.
On top of that, it organized some other events that introduce recipes for some Korean dishes by K-pop stars for their fans at online concerts, and the introduced Korean dishes have gained popularity. It is planning to make continued efforts to keep up the growing popularity of K-food through various marketing activities.
It is sometimes said a crisis may be both a danger and an opportunity. COVID-19 is definitely a serious danger to us, but fortunately may be a boon to K-food that helps it get through this danger.
It is certain that all the hard work of farmers and exporting companies in this difficult time will bear fruit become a light at the end of the tunnel with the opportunities the aT makes for them.
Shin Hyun-gon is executive vice president of the food industry & trade division of the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation.