iKimchi? Online auction site sells old favoriteYou might think it’s difficult to improve on the recipe for kimchi, let alone break a product best described as premium kimchi into the market.
Lee Gwang-deuk’s success story of marketing kimchi online has inspired local business communities as well as startup companies. A former production manager at Cheil Jedang’s kimchi department, Mr. Lee has people bidding through the Korean eBay, called “Auction” (www.auction.co.kr), for his kimchi.
Unlike most kimchi advertisements on the auction mall, Mr. Lee’s Web page starts with a large photograph featuring a Korean landscape and a few vivid lines describing how a salesperson “met” fresh, delicious small radishes at the Noeum Market in Daejeon. There are no photos of food.
Based in North Jeolla province, Mr. Lee sells chonggakmu, or small radish kimchi, made by his company “San. Deul. Baram,” which means “Mountain. Field. Breeze.”
The bulletin board of the “kimchi community” section of his homepage has some 2,808 comments praising the taste of his company’s kimchi and fermented sauces. And already there are knock-off brands that include the words “San. Deul. Baram” on Internet shopping sites.
Mr. Lee’s kimchi carries a steep price tag compared to regular kimchi ― up to 32,000 won ($32) for seven kilograms. But nonetheless, he has received hundreds of orders for his “Original Sing-Sing Chonggak Kimchi.”
Mr. Lee, 46, launched his online business at Auction in June 2002 after resigning from Cheil Jedang. He had pitched the idea to his former employer, but it was rejected during the corporate restructuring process.
While helping his sister-in-law’s business at Jinmi Food, one of Korea’s first-generation kimchi companies, he saw the price of kimchi rise as it was transferred through layers of distribution. He came up with the idea of dealing directly with his customers.
He started off slowly, with 10 boxes of whole kimchi from the Muju area of North Jeolla province, but word of mouth spread quickly. Initially, he couldn’t keep up with demand. He took full advantage of the benefits of the Internet and introduced various regional specialties such as mustard leaf, leek and pollack kimchi.
To overcome one of the limitations of the online market ― the anonymity of members ― he hosted an event titled “Byeolbit Shower” or “Starlit Shower” and invited the “kimchi community” members to his factory. Impressed, they started up a fan Web site and chat room at Daum, a major portal site, called “People Who Love San-Deul-Baram Kimchi.”
Now that the satisfaction level of his customers has reached 99 percent, Mr. Lee sells 400 to 500 kimchi boxes a month. But he says his goals haven’t been reached.
“Until the entire world gets to appreciate kimchi, I’ll work hard on the taste and credibility of Korean kimchi,” he says.
To search for Mr. Lee’s kimchi and sauce, type in the Korean words, “San. Deul. Baram Kimchi” (punctuated with two periods) into search engines on Auction’s Web site.
by Lee Young-ryeol