Pop star: How K-Wave is helping take Korean food exports to record heights

By Richard Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

The rising popularity of Korean pop culture is partly behind record chicken shipments from the country. ©Getty Images
The rising popularity of Korean pop culture is partly behind record chicken shipments from the country. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Korea, Food exports, Chicken

The rising popularity of Korean pop culture is partly behind record chicken shipments from the country.

In the last year, Korea has seen a net 7.7 percent increase in its agri-foods exports to other countries. Shipments of processed chicken from South Korea increased last year by 59.5% to USD21 million, marking a new high. Likewise, the export of Korean condiments, like gochujang​, has increased by more than 25 percent.

The Korea International Trade Association (KITA) attributed the increase somewhat to the rising popularity of Korean culture, which has helped boost global awareness of buldak​ spicy chicken noodles, tteokbokki​ rice cakes and Korean-style fried chicken, among other in-demand dishes.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs conducted on online survey of 8,000 residents of 16 major global cities to find that nearly six out of 10 respondents were familiar with Korean food.

The K-wave’ that started from Korean dramas and K-pop is now spreading to Korean cuisine and overall Korean lifestyle​,” Park Ga-hyun, a senior researcher at KITA, said in a report on the export of Korean condiments.

"All of this shows how cultural expansion is impacting the global food industry in a major way. And the increasing demand for ethnic foods from Korea and other remote areas is inevitable. No longer is the demand for these types of cuisines only coming from ethnic communities​.”

The United States was South Korea’s largest market for chicken last year, with shipments reaching USD 5.9 million, or 28.1% of the total. Hong Kong was its second largest export market last year, at USD4.96 million, a 162.4% increase from the previous year. Japan accounted for 22.7%.

The so-called hallyu​ wave of growth in popularity of Korean culture has not been lost on Malaysia, where Korean drama has been a staple on local television over generations. Nevertheless, it has only really been of interest to the country’s minority non-Muslim population, with very few halal certified Korean products and food outlets in existence.

Over the last couple of years, however, this has been changing, according to Lina Mustafa, executive director of Muslim Kitchen, a Kuala Lumpur food processor that manufactures Korean lines alongside Malaysian, European and other Far Eastern ready-to-cook dishes. The company is now looking to expand its Korean range.

There has been a surge of demand and curiosity in Malaysia, on the back of the popularity of Korean soap dramas and the influence of K-pop. The thing about Korean TV is there is food in every scene, and if the characters aren’t eating it, they’re discussing it​,” said Lina.

The trouble is there is a shortage of authentic Korean halal ingredients, but that’s been changing, albeit slowly. There are now more halal-certified ingredients available, but they’re expensive, which keeps the price of halal Korean food up when non-halal Korean food is already widely accessible now​.”

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