The Hallyu wave of Korean food has expanded from traditional dishes like kimchi and bulgogi to chicken and beer. Now, domestic instants foods are following suit.
Why is it that exports of instant ramyeon noodles and frozen foods are steadily increasing?
We took a look at the current state of K-foods, led by Korean instant foods, and predicted their future prospects.
The Hallyu Korean wave taking over the world with K-pop and Korean TV dramas is leading to strong interest in K-foods.
The popularity of K-foods is immediately apparent in the numbers.
Oveseas exports of domestic agricultural and food products, amounting to 5.6 billion dollars in 2012, grew steadily to 6.4 billion dollars last year.
Hot on the heals of traditional Korean food, which targeted overseas markets for expansion, domestic instant foods are captivating diners abroad.
The most beloved instant food overseas is ramyeon, or instant noodles.
Having made its way from Japan and China in Asia to the southernmost point of Chile’s Punta Arenas on the opposite side of the globe, domestic ramyeon enjoyed record-breaking exports last year.
Korea’s top ramyeon producer is exporting to 100 countries around the world.
Thanks to its addictively spicy flavor, exports and sales recorded by overseas branches reached 631 million dollars last year.
The secrets to the success included developing menus to cater to local tastes.
For example, one domestic instant noodle product that is overwhelmingly popular in Russia was often enjoyed with mayonnaise and sausages by Russian diners.
Reflecting this trend, the company released a product which includes mayonnaise sauce.
One instant noodle dish, with no broth and a spicy flavor, gained attention through social media as foreign diners uploaded videos of attempts at eating it. This led to more than a 4-fold increase in sales overseas within a year.
"The positive thing is that various Korean instant foods are prepared through their methods, and companies can gather their opinions
through their methods and diverse evaluations. They also act as a bridge for localization through their own preparations. "
Frozen foods are also popular abroad, especially frozen dumplings.
One frozen dumpling product developed by a domestic producer has emerged as a global brand in the U.S. and China by tailoring to local demands.
In the U.S. especially, it has taken the top slot for market share in just 4 years since its release.
"Dumpling factories have been built in Korea, China and the U.S. for local production and sales.
Frozen food companies in Vietnam and Russia were recently acquired to prepare for expanded operations. "
In addition to aggressive investment for local production and marketing, the high-end nature of korean dumplings and locally appealing flavors led to this success.
The company, currently ranked 5th in the global dumpling market, plans to continue its local adjustment strategy beyond the U.S. and China to expand to Europe and Southeast Asia, aiming to take 1st place by 2020.
"Americans prefer cilantro over the leeks that Koreans favor, so developing dumplings using cilantro, or with a chicken base to reflect its popularity over pork, could be seen as a fine accomplishment.
In China as well, locally-tailored products are being developed and sold to reflect the Chinese preference for products with corn, cabbage or various vegetables in dumplings. "
The Hallyu trend of instant foods is highly meaningful in terms of the globalization of Korean food.
Experts say that for the Hallyu food wave to continue, the government’s role is also important.
"Korean culture is being exported to many countries around the world, in the form of k-pop, TV dramas and movies.
Young generations who have experienced that culture will naturally show an interest in Korean food.
Expanding this interest by developing and exporting products tailored to their tastes will certainly contribute to the development of Korea’s food market."
Tastes in food, once captivated, are long lasting parts of daily lifestyles.
This is why K-food is cited as a branch of Hallyu content with greater cultural impact than other fields which are sensitive to trends.
Based on the popularity of instant foods, anticipation is rising for the continued growth of even more diverse Korean foods.