Journey to the west: South Korea food exports growth led by rising ramen demand in key markets

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea has seen a leap in ramen exports across its key export destinations in the first quarter of the year. ©Getty Images
South Korea has seen a leap in ramen exports across its key export destinations in the first quarter of the year. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea Exports Ramen

South Korea has seen a leap in ramen exports across its key export destinations in the first quarter of the year, led primarily by growth in the United States, South East Asia and European markets.

New data released by the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) has revealed that the country’s agri-food exports grew 3.4% year-on-year to reach US$2.27bn in Q1FY 2024, breaking its previous record of US$2.22bn in Q1FY2022.

Within this, two of the major markets identified as key growth generators were the United States and Europe, with 14.2% yoy growth to US$3.52mn and 27.4% yoy growth to US$166mn respectively. South East Asia also grew a healthy 3.0% yoy to hit US$464mn in export value for South Korea.

“Ramen was the clear leader with exports increasing to many global markets including to these three key ones – this quarter, we saw a 112.5% yoy growth in ramen exports to the United States valuing US$47mn; 39.9% yoy growth to US$49mn to ASEAN; and 34.8% yoy growth to US$45mn to Europe,”​ MAFRA Minister Song Mi-ryeong said via a formal statement.

“The European market in particular has shown promising high growth thanks to a change in regulations where import restrictions on Korean ramen were lifted in 2023, [also showing that] overseas consumer demand for ramen is indeed increasing as consumers are exposed to Hallyu Korean Wave content such as K-dramas.

“Analysing sales of the different items also shows ramen as a clear leading export product globally in Q1, ranking first in terms of export value at US$270mn, followed by, snack products (US$165mn), beverages (US$150mn), processed rice food items (US$61mn), kimchi (US$42.3mn) and grapes (US$10mn).”

Processed rice food items such as frozen gimbap rice rolls were found to also have seen significant export growth at 34.0% growth year-on-year, attributed to its perception of convenience and health in markets such as the United States (47.3% yoy growth), Europe (68.6% yoy growth) and the United Arab Emirates (152.1% yoy growth).

Europe and the UAE were also highlighted as major potential growth markets for processed rice food products due to export values currently being relatively low at US$5mn and US$1mn respectively.

On the other hand, South Korean grapes are being targeted to other East Asian markets such as China and Taiwan.

“The growth of grape exports to these markets is the result of our efforts to custom-produce and export grapes meeting specific demands of local consumers,”​ she added.

“The biggest growth market for grapes in Q1 was Taiwan which grew 119.7% growth to US$2mn, then China which grew 68.8% to US$1mn and Hong Kong which grew 28.3% to US$2mn.”

Healthy foods still going strong

In accordance with regional food and beverage trends, the US and European markets showed an increase in demand for healthy foods along a general recovery in consumer sentiment.

“Demands are on the rise for things like vegan and gluten-free products in these markets, as well as beverages like aloe vera and health drinks,”​ MAFRA added.

“This has been interpreted as the result of more new products being introduced to global markets such as children’s beverages, as well as an increase in contracts with more large local distributors [hence] improved marketing on-the-ground.”

Other products generally linked with wellness and healthier diets which have also shown growth included kimchi, which also showed a significant 6.1% yoy growth in exports in the first quarter of the year.

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