Convenience stores upgrade prepackaged lunches to draw singles
They now come in wider varieties and with better packaging to lure hungry customers.
The moves come as the growing number of single-person households and cost-conscious young people drive consumption.
GS Retail, an operator of convenience store GS25, first launched a food research institute in 2013 to develop new products, including the prepackaged meals.
“We hired food and health professionals to help consumers trust that food made by a convenience store is worth trying,” Hong Seong-joon, the head of the food institute, said.
The brainchild of the institute is the product dubbed My Hong Chicken Dosirak. (Dosirak translates to lunch box in Korean.) The meal comes with seasoned fried chicken and rice, and has become one of GS25’s most popular meals.
Still, the primary selling point of the product is its affordable price of 3,500 won ($3).
A decent meal from a restaurant in Seoul generally starts at around 6,000 won.
The cheap, easy offerings mostly appeal to the increasing number of single-person households, with busy college students and office workers unable to find time to buy groceries, cook and then do the dishes.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the number of single-person households went from 502,000 in 2000, or 16.3 percent of all households, to 982,000 this year, or 27 percent.
In 2030, single-person households will be the most common type, the city government said, accounting for 30.1 percent.
7-Eleven, a convenience store chain operated by Lotte Group, has also invested heavily in prepackaged meals. Its focus is on the quality of rice, promising to use only Korean rice within three days of it being milled.
In 2013, Lotte Food spent 4 billion won to upgrade the machines that cook the rice for the ready-to-eat meals.
7-Eleven has also brought in certified rice experts, also known as “rice sommeliers,” to ensure the quality of the rice in its lunches.
With extensive knowledge of the texture, taste and nutrition of rice, the rice sommeliers oversee the rice-cooking process.
The chain also widened the range of packed meals available.
At the high end, there is Hyeri 11 Chan Dosirak, which uses the image of Girls’ Day member Hyeri.
The meal comes with 11 different side dishes, including a few pieces of grilled short rib patties, seasoned vegetables, quail eggs in soy sauce and fried anchovies.
At 4,500 won, the meal is among the more expensive prepackaged options.
CU, another major chain, has typically not been as enthusiastic about packaged meals as its competitors.
But in September, CU brought on Baek Jong-won, a celebrated chef and TV personality, to develop new options.
Last week, the chain released two new ready-made lunches as part of the collaboration.
Big discount chains such as Lotte Mart and E-Mart have also released their own private-label lunch boxes.
BY PARK EUN-JEE [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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