Start-ups for foodies carve out their niches

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Start-ups for foodies carve out their niches

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Meal deliveries for people with diabetes and kidney disease and apps that notify users about late-night discounts at grocery stores are just few of the services offered by rising food start-ups in Korea.

Last Thursday, 10 “foodtech” start-ups attended the FoodFighter event in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, to explain their business services and achievements. The event was hosted by Startup Alliance, a local network that promotes the growth and overseas expansion of local companies. Senior managers from food conglomerates like CJ CheilJedang also attended the event, testifying to the industry’s rising interest in using technology to attract consumers who seek convenience and novelty.

Start-ups in the food business are pushing into new frontiers by using technology to provide innovative services and expand their reach.

Dr. Kitchen, one of the event’s attendees, is already popular among people with diabetes. In 2015, it became the first company to deliver semi-prepared food to diabetics, allowing them to choose from over 420 diabetic-friendly meals. The company’s dishes include bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables) with miso paste as well as coconut cream curry.

“We will soon launch meals for individuals dealing with extreme obesity and infertility,” said one of the company’s managers.

Microsalts, which offers low-salt meals for patients with kidney disease, has avid fans among those minding their salt consumption. Milimeal, whose promotional activities are supported by local distiller Hite Jinro, sells meal replacement shakes made of toasted rice that are popular with young office workers.

Many food start-ups are also experimenting with novel ways to procure ingredients instead of relying on existing logistics infrastructure.

Gikuin sells processed products made from fruits and vegetables that are too damaged in appearance to be sold in stores but still taste good and are nutritious. The start-up’s products include fruit jam made with apples and mandarin oranges damaged by hail as well as juice extracted from grapes with scraped skin.

“We’re killing two birds with one stone. The farmers sell their stock, and we procure fresh agricultural produce,” said Gikuin CEO Min Geum-chae. “We are also trying to build a B2B [business-to-business platform] to connect farmers with other companies in the industries.”

Haemulsa is an online shopping site where consumers can buy fresh seafood at prices they would only find in the fish market. Gogitgan sells choice meats, like chateaubriand, online at nearly half the price usually charged by local butcheries.

Start-ups are also providing new platforms where small business owners can draw in new consumers.

Last Order notifies consumers about low-priced meals and products that neighborhood stores and restaurants try to get rid of before closing.

“We believe there is demand [for this service] since consumers will be able to purchase food for up to 70 percent off of its original price,” said one of the company managers at the event. “We began providing services last month to residents in Mapo, Gwanak and Dongjak Districts.”

Dessert Pick introduces consumers to desserts created by independent merchants and with aesthetically-pleasing pictures and videos.

Expensive products that strive to deliver high quality have also found a wide fan base among young consumers.

Veluga delivers packages of beer and snacks paired by beer sommeliers directly to consumers’ homes. The packages also come with a pamphlet that contains a comprehensive description of the beer as well as a QR code that links to recommended music. Consumers pay around 55,000 won ($49.21) to 65,000 won to receive the packages twice a month.

The Skinny Pig Creamery sells ice cream that has 25 percent fewer calories than normal brands. CEO Lee Jong-beom, who tried dieting for 10 years, developed the ice cream after nine months of trial and research for people like him who wanted to eat desserts without gaining weight.

“I came here today to learn about these start-ups, whose importance is often emphasized in the industry,” said Jang Jae-ho, who manages new business development at CJ CheilJedang. “We plan to examine and work together with promising start-ups from the brainstorming stage.”


BY HA SUN-YOUNG [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]

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