Uproar prompts Koreans to buy macadamia nuts

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Uproar prompts Koreans to buy macadamia nuts

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Koreans may have been embarrassed by the ridicule earned by Korean Airlines after the daughter of its chairman went ballistic over macadamia nuts in a first class cabin of a flight from New York to Seoul.

But there are silver linings to even the darkest clouds. Koreans have suddenly gone nuts for macadamia nuts and retailers are reaping a windfall.

Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of the chairman of Hanjin Group, which owns the airline, became an international laughing stock earlier this week after it was reported that she delayed a flight to eject the cabin manager from a Korean Air flight out of fury over the way she was served macadamia nuts.

A flight attendant had given Cho nuts in a bag. She wanted them on a plate or in a bowl.

Savvy online retailers have cashed in on the scandal by using it in their marketing for the nut.

“Long description not needed. The nuts. (In fact, the macadamia),” reads a promotional tweet by G-Market. The tweet was released Dec. 9, a day after the news was reported.

A screen shot of the tweet was instantly shared on a number of web forums, piquing people’s curiosity about the nut. G-Market said sales of macadamia nuts from Hawaiian nut company Mauna Loa jumped by a whopping 2,505 percent, or 26 times, between Dec. 8 and 11, compared to the average sales the previous week.

“It seems that people wondered why such a big fuss was made over the nut,” said a representative of G-Market.

That fact that the macadamia was connected with first class service on the airline was a big factor in consumers’ curiosity.

“And we kind of tapped into the curiosity,” the representative said. “Instead of promoting the product, we tried to make people curious about what it is. Before the incident, the product was barely known, though macadamia nuts might be served in different places.”

Other retailers enjoy the nut bandwagon with less effort. Auction, an e-commerce site operated by eBay Korea, said that the number of people who searched for the word “macadamia” increased 20 times. People searching for the keyword “nuts” rose 10 times.

Sales of macadamia nuts at Auction between Dec. 8 and 9 went up by 61 percent compared to the previous week, and helped sales of all nuts increase by 100 percent.

Daily sales of nut products hit a record high on Dec. 9.

“Nut products tend to be more popular in the winter season than in summer,” said Hong Yoon-hee, the head of public relations at Auction. “Still, it is extremely rare to achieve this level of sales without any big promotional events.”

Domestic online retailer 11th Street reported a 309 percent increase in sales of macadamia nuts, while daily deals site Coupang saw 25 times higher sales of Mauna Loa’s macadamias than the daily average.

Foreign retail companies also tried muscling in on the fad.

iHerb, an American online mall specializing in health supplements and organic food, promoted macadamia nuts on its official Twitter site in Korean, making the post very conspicuous among normal English tweets.

“Macadamias that attract a lot of attention are available on iHerb at 12,055 won,” reads the post. “(The nuts will be delivered in a bag.)”

The clever tweet was retweeted by more than 900 people.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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