Food companies see Incheon Airport as a prime showcase

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Food companies see Incheon Airport as a prime showcase

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Park Sung-min, a 35-year-old company worker, was sent on a business trip to Mongolia. He got to Incheon International Airport early enough to grab a meal. But try as he might, he couldn’t find his favorite Korean restaurant at the airport. Every time Park traveled on business, he made a point of eating at the restaurant.

That was then. Now, the food offered at Incheon International Airport is going through major changes. A famous bakery is now the site of a bibimbap (rice mixed with beef, vegetables and red pepper paste) place. A former restaurant selling Korean food now specializes in fusion dishes like rice wrapped in an omelette.

The food-serving venues of Incheon International Airport are at the turn of a change.

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The changes, which began last summer, are being led by CJ Foodville, SPC Group, OurHome, Amoje Food System and Pulmuone ECMD, big players in the food and beverage industry. Those five companies won licenses to operate food and beverage outlets at Incheon International Airport in March.

Big changes in space arrangements and themes for food areas of the airport are the first since 2008, when licenses were awarded for the second time since the airport opened in 2001. March was the third round of licenses.

“We based our choice of licensees on their domestic brand awareness,” Kim Beom-ho, an official from the airport’s marketing department, explained, “and whether they can provide differentiated food choices for travelers.”

The biggest change is the brands of Korean food restaurants. CJ Foodville has installed a Bibigo-Seasonal Table - a combination of Bibigo, a bibimbap place, and Seasonal Table, a seasonal Korean food chain - next to a central performance area where music events are held.

“The brands are part of the company’s main globalization projects,” said Lee Hwa-seon, a chief manager at CJ Foodville, “and we put special efforts into finding the best location for the restaurant.”

The restaurant is reported to have a high table turnover of 20 to 25 a day. Cheiljemyunso, a Korean noodle restaurant by CJ, also sells rice balls for takeout. CJ Foodville brought in 12 national brands, including Tous Les Jours and A Twosome Place.

OurHome, which opened its Food Empire Gourmet Dining & Kitchen in the duty-free areas of the passenger terminal, is also putting Korean food in the lead. This is the first time OurHome has operated in the airport, and it secured the largest space area of 4,036 square meters (43,443 square feet) to introduce 18 brands.

Its major Korean food restaurants are Banjoo, a modern Korean diner, and Sonsoo Bansang. After a grand opening in July, 70 percent of the company’s revenues at the airport came from Korean food.

In addition to Korean food, OurHome is operating Xingkai, a Chinese restaurant; MozzaLuna, an Italian diner; Taco Bell, a Mexican fast-food chain; and Nimat, a halal restaurant.

“The purpose of the rearrangement is to present various dishes that satisfy different appetites of travelers from all over the world,” said Hyun Jin-ah, a leader of the airport task force team from OurHome.

Pulmuone ECMD opened Pungkyungmaru on the fourth floor of the passenger terminal, following the concept of a traditional Korean culture street.

The food offered range from desserts to street food seen anywhere in Korea, such as tteokbokki, rice cake in a sweet and spicy sauce.

Amoje Food opened Gourmet Dessert, K-Street Food and Omuto Tomato Dining in the restaurant sector on the fourth floor, calling them Amoje Gourmet Lounge. Gourmet Dessert offers eight brands popular in Cheongdam-dong and Hongdae, such as an organic bakery, red bean buns (danpat ppang) and royal rice-cake shops. The K-Street Food section sells street food, including sundae (Korean stuffed sausage), tteokbokki, gimbap (rice balls), ramyeon (Korean noodles) and roast chicken.

SPC Group, which has been operating in the airport since 2007, kept its main brands such as Paris Baguette, Paris Croissant and Baskin-Robbins but changed the configuration of the shops. While the shops used to be in the area before immigration and customs, they have mostly been moved to the duty-free, transfer and boarding gate areas.

The group trained their sales teams in different foreign languages and prepared menus in English, Chinese and Japanese. “The third floor areas receive 45 million tourists annually and seven million transfer travelers, which means the venue has immense brand exposure,” said Song Gi-woo, an official of the company. Many Chinese tourists buy snacks for the flight or gifts to take home. The group introduced 40 brands in total, including two new brands: Lagrillia, a Western restaurant, and Coffee@Works, a coffee shop.

Rents paid by the five licensees are a total of 47 billion won ($41 million) a year, more than double the 24.2 billion won paid by their predecessors.

The industry calls this part of the food and beverage business a concession business. It’s a term used when food and beverage sales are provided at multi-use facilities such as airports, amusement parks or resorts. From the restaurant industry’s point of view, the longer contracts are more attractive than normal restaurant premises, where the contracts are renewed every two or three years.

In addition, it’s a stable market since customers are always coming through an airport. Amoje Food is currently operating concession businesses in 15 areas, including Lotte World Mall’s premium food lounge, Food Capital. Pulmuone ECMD entered the concession business in 2006 and is operating shops in 37 different areas such as resorts, hotels and rest stops on highways. SPC Group is expanding its presence in airports and highway rest stops. Based on last year’s revenues, the size of the domestic concession business was estimated at roughly 3.3 trillion won. The industry forecasts a growth rate of 8 to 10 percent every year.

Aside from the profits earned at Incheon International Airport, companies are also trying to expose their brands to as many people around the world as possible. Companies that are already exporting their brands, or preparing to do so, like the exposure that a presence in the airport provides.

CJ Foodville began operating overseas shops beginning with Tous Les Jours in 2004. The company now has more than 240 shops in 10 countries with brands like Bibigo, A Twosome Place and VIPS. Over 100 shops are operating in China alone.

BY MOON BYUNG-JOO [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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