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Cabbage crisis causes kimchi crunch

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Oct 01,2010
Lee Seong-ryuh, a 63-year-old grandmother, has made her family’s kimchi for decades - until, that is, she stopped doing so a few days ago.

“I was waiting for the outrageous price of cabbage to fall, but it kept rising instead,” she said. “I had no choice but to buy prepackaged kimchi, which is a far better bargain right now.”

Korea is going through a kimchi crunch after this year’s weird weather led to rising prices for Chinese cabbage, used in the main form of kimchi. Within two days this week, cabbage prices doubled.

Company cafeterias have cut down on the amount they offer employees, some restaurants are charging for kimchi refills, and moms and grandmas do not know what they’ll do in November and December, the traditional season for making homemade kimchi.

And as cabbage kimchi is such a Korean staple, its skyrocketing price is expected to hit citizens right in the money belt.

The culprit for the kimchi crisis is unusual weather patterns. “Chinese cabbage is grown mostly in mountainous regions and needs steady, cool weather to grow well,” said Yoon Young-chul of the produce department at Nonghyup, or the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation. “This year’s weather, which constantly alternated between rain and heat, has ruined lots of crops.”

According to the Korea Price Research Center, the price of Chinese cabbage per 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) was tabulated at 11,500 won ($10) on Sept. 29, up from 3,890 won on Sept. 15.

Retailers have had no choice but to hike prices. At Shinsegae E-Mart, a head of cabbage sold for 11,500 won on Sept. 29, but the day before the same head would have set you back 6,450 won.

“The price of cabbage is expected to remain high at least until the middle of October,” said a representative of E-Mart. “Even if prices fall after mid-October, it is still expected to have an effect on the traditional kimchi-making season [starting in November].”

Skyrocketing prices have propelled consumers to seek alternatives. At supermarkets and discount stores, prepackaged kimchi is often sold out long before closing time. (Prepackaged kimchi was made before cabbage prices rose.)

“As soon as we put prepackaged kimchi on the shelves, they’re sold out,” said an E-Mart employee. “We can’t find enough kimchi to sell.”

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to announce countermeasures to the price rises today.

Meanwhile, Lotte Mart announced it will import 50,000 heads of cabbage from China early this month.

Even the Blue House has been hit. President Lee Myung-bak has switched from kimchi made from Chinese cabbages to European cabbages, according to Yonhap News Agency yesterday.


By Lee Jung-yoon [joyce@joongang.co.kr]



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