Food exports, still small, buck the fall in exports

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Food exports, still small, buck the fall in exports

Korean food could be a new export driver at a time when the current flagship exports have seen declines. Although the base is still small, exports of processed foods and beverages, especially bread products and beer, rose smartly during the first half.

According to a report from the Institute for International Trade at the Korea International Trade Association yesterday, those products and others are beginning to find acceptance in some countries.

Korean traditional rice puffs, called bbeongtuigi, are an example. Exports rose nearly 10 percent in the first half as exporters developed stable retail networks in China and the United States. Once consigned to mom-and-pop Korean groceries in the United States, mainstream retailers like Wal-Mart, Costco and Carrefour have added them to their shelves.

Korean-made biscuit exports grew 6 percent during the same period, thanks to their popularity in China and Japan. Smaller confectionery makers are the main exporters, addressing Chinese consumers’ demands for safe food and developing higher-quality products for finicky Japanese consumers. In China, processed food and dairy products made in Korea have outsold local brands, the institute said, ever since a 2008 scandal erupted there because of tainted domestic infant formula.

Exports of Korean bakery products rose 11.2 percent in the first five months of this year following a series of Korean food exhibitions in the United States and Australia. Those products, like rice puffs, were once bought only by Korean expatriates seeking a touch of home.

Korean beer exports jumped by 19 percent through May of this year. Korean beer became the leading imports in Hong Kong after a major retailer, Jebsen, started stocking Korean brands. Bottled water exports to Iraq doubled.

Until last year, soju and processed noodles were the leading Korean food exports. But those markets have gone soft as consumers sought lower-alcohol drinks and healthier noodle dishes like rice noodles or udon. Soju exports fell 2.1 percent year-on-year during the first five months of 2015, and ramen noodle exports slipped by 1.2 percent during that period.

The new products are taking up the slack. Trade analysts say Korea’s food exports still are small in the total export mix but are growing steadily as exports of other manufactured goods have slumped in the face of price pressure and technological competitiveness from China, Japan and European countries.

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