Once again, he prepares for a meaty roleChuseok, Korea's harvest festival season, is supposed to be a holiday, but that's not the case for Hwang Wu-yeon, the chief buyer of beef ribs at the Lotte Department Store. For Mr. Hwang, 39, Chuseok season is the busiest time of the year, accounting for half of the year's total sales.
Mr. Kim has been an expert beef rib buyer for 12 years, but this year especially has been especially tough because there hasn't been as much beef as usual to go around. Koreans prefer the taste of domestic beef to imported, further raising the price, particularly of the sought-after gift sets.
Especially with the meat scares that have been in the news over the past few years, people really do not want to buy foreign beef, further increasing the demand for the local product. There has been intense competition among beef ribs buyers at department stores. "Since March, I had to roam about all over the country to find the right, high-quality beef ribs," Mr. Hwang said.
Lotte Department Store has two cattle operations in Jecheon, Chungcheong province and Hoengseong, Gangwon province, but Mr. Hwang said that's not just enough to meet the Chuseok demand.
Over the Chuseok holiday season, Lotte usually sells from 120,000 to 130,000 sets of beef ribs, and 250,000 sets for the year. One set holds 5 kilograms of beef ribs -- at 10,000 won ($8) a kilogram, that's 50,000 won a set, a lot of money to spend on cow. And since Mr. Hwang accounts for 20 percent of all the Chuseok beef rib sales, that amounts to more than 1 billion won.
In addition, one cow can provide about 30 kilograms of beef ribs. Therefore, about 20,000 cows are needed just to satisfy Chuseok tastes. According to Mr. Hwang, however, only 40 percent of available beef ribs are good enough to be chosen by him.
Despite all his hard work, beef ribs gift set may be declining. While they have long been the most popular gift during Korea's biggest holidays, Chuseok and lunar new year's day, this year Mr. Hwang sees signs of some decline. "This year, I expect half of the meat sales to be assorted meat gift set," he said. Last year, beef ribs took more than 60 percent of the meat sales at the Lotte Department Store.
For those who have to get ready for holiday season, Mr. Hwang shared his know-how on selecting quality beef ribs. Crimson-colored beef ribs are fresh and have soft-texture when cooked. Fat, in white or bright yellow colors, should be well-spread all over the meat, like a marble.
Mr. Hwang introduced some new, uniquely-Korean meat items like green tea beef from Boseong, South Jeolla province, red ginseng beef from Buyeo, South Chungcheong province, jujube fruit beef from Mount Songni and fig beef from Yeongam, South Jeolla province.
He also said that Korean beef ribs gift sets are becoming fancier each year. This year, customers have a wide range of packaging choices, including artificial leather and wooden packaging made from an empress tree.
by Kim Chang-gyu