Convenience stores up the ante on Seollal gifts

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Convenience stores up the ante on Seollal gifts

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Left: A “solo drinker” set with finger food sold as a Seollal gift at 7-Eleven. Right: A box of red hyang, tangerines native to Jeju Island, sold at CU. [7-ELEVEN, CU]

Lunar New Year, known as Seollal in Korea, is a month away, and many convenience stores have begun sales of special gift sets for the holiday.

Some are taking advantage of an antigraft law change this year that raised the price limit on food gifts for public officials from 50,000 won ($47) to 100,000 won. They’re offering sets stocked with premium goods like grass-fed beef and regional fruit.

Others have put together some unconventional Seollal sets with gifts that cater to the tastes of younger consumers in their 20s and 30s, the main demographic of convenience stores.

CU, the market leader, has placed a heavy focus on produce, which accounts for a third of all gift sets they have prepared for Lunar New Year. The lineup includes the Korean beef known as hanwoo, seafood and fruits such as dried persimmons from Sangju, North Gyeongsang, and red hyang, a variety of tangerine only found on Jeju Island.

Around 130 gift sets at GS25 include fresh produce and were priced below 100,000 won, the spending limit dictated by the antigraft law known as the Kim Young-ran Law. GS25’s selection also includes ginseng and deodeok root, a mountain herb frequently served as a side dish.

“We increased the number of fresh food sets by 20 percent compared to last year as we predicted more demand for these products after changes to the Kim Young-ran law,” GS25 said in a statement.

Last year, sales of fresh food sets were slow compared to other low-priced gifts at convenience stores because it was the first year after the antigraft law passed.

According to the Kim Young-ran Law, public officials cannot accept meals worth more than 30,000 won, a gift worth more than 50,000 won or cash of more than 50,000 won at a wedding or funeral.

The law defines “public officials” broadly. Aside from civil servants and lawmakers, teachers and journalists are covered because the bill considers their work public. Even their spouses are covered.

After receiving complaints from the agricultural industry, which called the law destructive to their businesses because many gifts include fresh produce, the government in December decided to raise the cap on livestock, marine and agricultural gifts only, effective this year.

Sales data from Shinsegae Department Store already show that the lighter Kim Young-ran Law has prompted more gift set purchases. Preorders increased 10.4 percent year on year between Jan. 5 and 9.

In the past, convenience stores have focused on smaller gift sets containing beverages, alcohol or canned food, while larger retailers sell the costlier, high-quality gift sets. But a CU spokesman said convenience stores are expanding into the premium end because more customers prefer shopping near home instead of going to department stores or supermarkets.

Other convenience stores have made attempts to differentiate themselves from competitors by placing unconventional gifts that cater to the tastes of single-person households and younger customers.

At 7-Eleven, gift sets containing microwaveable meals doubled from last year to include barbecued pork ribs and sweet and sour pork. The convenience store also prepared a 50,000 won set containing seven types of finger food, including olives, salami and various cheeses, for solo drinkers.

Ministop added a section of “work-life balance” gifts that includes devices for the office such as a foot massager and Bluetooth speakers.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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