|A customer shops for meal kits at a large supermarket in Seoul, Aug. 9, 2021. Newsis|
By Kim Jae-heun
A 32-year-old office worker surnamed Kim said he has gained 5 kilograms over the past three months since he started eating home meal replacement (HMR) products sold at grocery stores. Kim thought it would be healthier to eat freshly prepared meal-kits rather than offerings sold by convenience stores or fast-food chains.
"I never realized how much sodium meal-kit products contained until I started to gain weight uncontrollably. I thought I just wasn't exercising enough. However, after checking the nutritional content on one of the items I ate one evening, I was shocked," Kim said. "It was the meal kits that made me fat."
According to Consumers Korea, a consumer advocacy group, 11 out of 25 HMR products checked by the organization exceeded the recommended sodium and saturated fat daily intake.
Looking at multiple meal kits, the study found that "budae jjigae," or Korean sausage stew, exceeded the maximum recommended daily standard for sodium of 2,000 milligrams by 123.7 percent, followed by "millefeuille" with 98.4 percent and rose pasta with 51.1 percent.
Six out of 25 meal-kit items had saturated fat containing more than 15 grams, which is the daily standard recommended for one person.
"People don't really scrutinize nutritional information on the product packaging. I just simply thought it would be better to eat meal kits than ordering fried chicken to eat at home. But now I know how much sodium and saturated fat they contain and I think I am not going to eat them at home anymore," said Jang, another office worker.
Consumers Korea said the most urgent task at the moment is to make it mandatory for meal kits to disclose nutrition information on the packaging. The local law does not force food companies to list the nutritional content of their products, as they are comprised of natural materials. Only six out of 25 products that the consumer advocacy group studied included nutrition information on their packaging.
"There was no nutrition information on some of the HMR products, but I didn't really care because I trusted that the food ingredients included in them would be healthy. I feel betrayed," said Lee, a 28-year-old student.
E-mart, operator of its private meal-kit brand Peacock, acknowledged that its products contain excessive fat and salt.
"As Consumers Korea pointed out, our products include considerable amounts of sodium and saturated fat. We are reviewing ways to reduce them at the moment," an E-mart official said.