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Brands feel the heat in spicy snack market

Bigger and hotter is the way to stay ahead as mala craze hits chips

Aug 16,2019
Spicy snacks have always been big business in Korea, with companies competing to provide the hottest products in a crowded market.

This year a different kind of spicy flavor has suddenly shot up in popularity - mala.

From top; Mala-flavored snacks from Lotte Confectionary, Orion and Haitai Confectionery and Foods. [LOTTE CONFECTIONERY, ORION, HAITAI CONFECTIONERY AND FOODS]
Mala is a spicy Chinese sauce known to numb the mouth. Its popularity in Korea was led by malatang, a soup-based dish that involves customers picking their own ingredients to boil in the broth, paying for the combined weight of the food.

Orion last week introduced a spicy mala flavor of its popular Cuttlefish Peanut Ball and Dodohan Nacho snacks.

Orion isn’t the only one turning to mala. The food company also unveiled new red pepper flavors of its Chicken Pop and Pocachip snacks last month.

Orion said it introduced the new flavors due to the growing number of people who choose to eat spicy flavored snacks while drinking beer, instead of more traditional options like dried squid and peanuts. The mala trend that swept through Korea this summer has only added to the popularity of spicy snacks.

A spokesperson from the company said that it expects a positive response to its latest releases, considering that the new flavor of Chicken Pop and Pocachip each sold 600,000 bags since their release.

“Food companies have started targeting alcohol drinkers with the growing trend of drinking alcoholic beverages alone. The increased purchase of beers at convenience stores since the retailers initiated the four-cans-for-10,000 won promotions also seem to have boosted sales of snacks in replacement of traditional options.” The spokesperson added, “Snacks are also convenient to take on vacation since they are easily accessible and don’t need to be refrigerated.”

Haitai Confectionery and Foods also unveiled mala flavors of its tteokbokki and shrimp chip snacks last month, while Lotte Confectionery released a mala version of its Doritos last month. Sales of the mala flavored Doritos have already exceeded a million bags, according to Lotte.

Snack companies have been trying out new salty and spicy flavors that are thought to match well with alcohol drinks for several years.

Binggrae released a spinoff of its Ggotgaerang, a crab snack, in a spicy seafood flavor in 2016 and a wasabi flavor in 2018.

Bucking the trend, Nongshim is going for bigger sizes, not bigger spices.

In 2016, Nongshim released Chicken Leg Nugget, a spinoff of its existing Chicken Leg Snack, but bigger. The Chicken Leg Nugget snack garnered positive responses from beer drinkers, according to the firm.

“Online sales of the Chicken Leg Nugget snack show that beer buyers jointly bought the Chicken Leg Nugget,” said a spokesperson for Nongshim. “Reflecting the rising demand for snacks when drinking, confectionery companies are [increasingly] catering to alcohol drinkers.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]


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