Antigraft law may prove a boon to local specialty dealers

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Antigraft law may prove a boon to local specialty dealers

When the Constitutional Court cleared a new antigraft law last week that prohibits civil servants, lawmakers, teachers and journalists from accepting presents worth over 50,000 won ($45), the ruling instantly sent shivers through the luxury gift set market.

But for many regional entrepreneurs who have shaped their entire business around local specialties, the announcement was music to their ears.

Now, producers of eomuk (fish cakes), rice cakes, red dates and dried persimmons, for instance, say their products might also finally be regarded as decent presents.

Although the antigraft law will officially go into effect Sept. 28, a little after the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holidays, which fall between Sept. 14 and 16, industry pundits predict many Koreans will view this year as a test-run and will try to stick with the 50,000 won cap.

As one of the country’s two biggest holidays, Chuseok has always been a time of sharing gifts and expressing gratitude.

In Busan, workers at Samjin Eomuk, home to one of the country’s largest eomuk brands, said they are preparing two main gift sets for Chuseok, one containing 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) of eomuk for 30,000 won and one containing 3.5 kilograms for 50,000 won.

Eomuk, also known here as odeng (from the Japanese oden), is a processed seafood product made from pureed white fish, usually enjoyed boiled as a street snack or seasoned in sesame oil as a side dish.

The company is planning to implement a new storage technique before Chuseok and raise production nearly four-fold. The current processing systems enable it to make around 1,000 boxes, each filled with 2.5 kilograms of eomuk, every day.

In Busan’s Gijang County, best known for its seaweed, a wholesaler said he was planning to make different gift sets in time for Chuseok, confident that their cheap prices would make them more appealing after the passing of the antigraft law. One bundle of seaweed, which weighs between 300 grams and 1 kilogram, will sell for roughly 10,000 to 50,000 won, he said.

Up in Boeun County, North Chungcheong, red date farmers are high on hopes that their products, which cost around 20,000 won for 1 kilogram, could be considered a thoughtful Chuseok gift, too.

In Asan, South Chungcheong, a box filled with 3 kilograms of songpyeon (traditional rice cakes often filled with either beans or sesame seeds) costs between 32,000 and 35,000 won.

In Sangju, North Gyeongsang, dried persimmon farmers said their most popular gift set for Chuseok was a box filled with 100 persimmons, priced at 55,000 won. In order to bring that below 50,000 won, they’re now considering taking a few pieces out and redesigning their storage boxes.

In Andong, North Gyeongsang, the 80-year-old rice cake company Buburi, which mixes red beans and glutinous rice, said it also would lower its cheapest gift set to below 50,000 won by slightly downsizing its 50-piece package, which currently sells for 52,000 won.

In Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, home to Korea’s most famed producer of hwangnambbang (a pastry dessert filled with red beans), the company Hwangnam said it will more aggressively promote its less expensive gift sets.

BY WEE SUNG-WOOK, SHIN JIN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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