South Korea has made no secret of its food security concerns and worries about being over-reliant on imports for local staple foods such as wheat and soybeans, particularly after COVID-19 hit the region, and even developed a strategy earlier this year specifically targeting food security.
The productivity of the local food industry has also been a major concern due to COVID-19 interrupting supply chains and natural disasters such as floods, but according to a recent government report manufacturers appear to have pulled through despite the challenges to even achieve some growth in production.
“The domestic food industry grew to KRW84.33tn (US$72.9bn) in 2020, up 4.1% from KRW81.77tn (US$70.6bn) in the previous year [despite] being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges,” the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) said via an official statement.
“We have also observed a clear increase or decrease in the production of products related to consumer health consciousness, e.g. an increase in fresh and functional products.”
The ministry also listed the top 10 food companies in the country by production value performance, with food conglomerate CJ Cheiljedang beating previous champion Lotte Chilsung Beverages to grab the top spot with KRW2.12tn (US$1.8bn) in production value.
“The second place was taken by local beer production firm Hite Jinro at KRW1.79tn (US$1.5bn), leaping from fourth place the year before to second place due to an increase in beer production; followed by instant noodle and snack brand Nongshim with KRW1.73tn (US$1.49bn),” said the report.
“Lotte Chilsung Beverages dropped to fourth place from first place the year before [with a fairly large drop] from KRW22.2tn (US$1.91bn) to KRW16.7tn (US$1.44bn), [followed by] Lotte Confectionery at KRW0.87tn (US$751mn).”
Hite Jinro’s leap to second place can be partially attributed to South Korea’s boycott of Japanese products, including beer – Japanese beer previously took the top-selling spots in South Korea, but the boycott has pushed locals to turn to more local beer brands. Lotte’s beverage drop however is likely due to COVID-19 challenges and consumers turning away from sugar-sweetened drinks.
The other notable food brands on the top 10 list include RTE and RTC brand Ottogi (KRW0.79tn / US$682.6mn), beverage and snack brand Dongsuh Food (KRW0.75tn / US$648mn), seasonings and ingredients firm Daesang (KRW0.71tn / US$613.5mn), bakery firm Paris Croissant (KRW0.67tn / US$578.9) and Lotte Food (KRW0.62tn / US$535.7mn).
Meat rules the roost
South Korea has also been attempting to boost its local meat production over the past few years due to both food security and food safety concerns, e.g. the dreaded hemolytic uremic syndrome or ‘hamburger disease’ that made headlines over the past year.
This has driven the growth of the local meat production industry, with packed pork (KRW7.23tn / US$6.25bn), beef (KRW5.46tn / US$4.72bn) and processed meats (KRW3.70tn / US$3.2bn) emerging as the top locally produced food items in 2020.
“Ham in particular saw a 37.6% growth from KRW0.8tn in 2019 to KRW1.1tn in 2020 – according to our analysis, this is due to restrictions set on private gatherings due to COVID-19, [so] exchanging popular hams as holiday gift sets [in the place of] face-to-face gatherings [had] an effect on the increase in sales,” said MFDS.
It is also expected that more focus will be put into increasing local beef production as at present, as government data has also shown that South Korea’s beef sufficiency rates fell from 36.5% to 32% over the past 10 years, but per capita consumption has increased from 8.8kg in 2010 to 13kg in 2019.
Also of note is the fact that local beef or hanwoo currently carries a far more premium price than imported beef – in 2020, hanwoo cost more than double local beef prices at KRW5,993 (US$5.38) per 100g as opposed to KRW2,460 (US$2.21) for US beef and 2,347 (US$2.11) for Australian beef.