'Holiday' a boon for maker of chocolate snack
Choi Su-hwan was writing in his journal on the Hanyang University campus in Seoul when his friend walked into the room with a package of long, thin chocolate coated biscuits.
"Hey thanks, I was really getting hungry," he said.
"Too bad they're not for you," his friend replied as he took a seat.
Mr. Choi looked again at the biscuits and noticed they were wrapped in colorful ribbons. "What are you doing with those Pepero?" he asked, referring to the chocolate treats by their brand name. His friend said, "It's Pepero Day. I'm giving them to my girlfriend."
Pepero Day, Nov. 11, became an unofficial Korean holiday in 1994 when school girls in the Busan area exchanged the snacks. Oddly, the gift of chocolate coated snacks was meant to inspire the recipient to lose weight, hopefully eventually resembling the slim stick figure of the Pepero. Now, it is just a peculiar Korean version of Valentine's Day -- and a boon for Lotte Confectionery Co., which makes Pepero. Lotte Confectionery said they sold more than 5 billion won ($4 million) of the snacks last November; the company is looking to almost double that this month.
A convenience store owner in downtown Seoul said customers, mostly office workers, were buying up the treats yesterday.
"By lunch time only a few were left," she beamed. "I heard that if you give a package of Pepero to someone on Nov. 11 at 11 minutes past 11 o'clock your love will last forever."
A customer, Han Seung-woo, nodded in agreement. "I'm buying these for my girlfriend."
Mr. Han then confessed that he had no idea why or how Pepero Day began, but said if he did not give them to his girlfriend she may not forgive him.
At another convenience store in Gangnam, southern Seoul, Song Jin-moon, 27, was reluctantly buying some of the snacks for his sweetheart. "She says Pepero Day is for lovers, but isn't that what Valentine's Day is for?"
But not everyone buying Pepero yesterday had love in mind. "Sorry. I just bought these because I'm hungry," said Song Geun-hyeong, a graduate student at Korea University. "I didn't even know it was Pepero Day."
Yoo Seung-gi, a graduate student at Hanyang University, said, "Once I got some Pepero from one of my students." Mr. Yoo said he was teaching math and science at a private institute last year. "She was just a middle school girl, but still it was nice since nobody gave me any chocolate on Valentine's Day."
Mr. Yoo's friends stared at him half with envy and half with suspicion.
"What? It's normal for middle school and high school girls to have crushes on their teachers," Mr. Yoo said, smiling.