Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Lucrative Spam!

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Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Lucrative Spam!

In a lot of countries around the world, Spam is considered a low-quality food that’s more of a relic of the distant past than a feature of modern meals. But in Korea, the brand is still going as strong as ever, with accumulated sales reaching 4 trillion won ($3.5 billion).

Spam sales passed 4 trillion won in early January, according to CJ CheilJedang, the local manufacturer, on Tuesday. That puts it on par with other Korean culinary greats like Nonghim’s Shin Ramyun instant noodles and Orion’s Choco Pie. The achievement comes 32 years after food giant CJ CheilJedang started locally producing the canned meat in 1987. The product originates from Minnesota in the United States.

Its annual sales have constantly grown over the last 32 years, with last year’s figures reaching 410 billion won, a 17 percent increase on year. Spam currently accounts for more than half of Korea’s canned meat market.

Although the base recipe is largely similar, Korean Spam is slightly different - it’s less salty than the U.S. version and contains a mixture of domestic and imported meat. The local factory also makes sure to completely extract veins and tendons from the meat - the company used to receive heaps of complaints from customers.

The reason Spam maintains its popularity in Korea is the food culture here. With white rice dominant on the Korean meal table, strong flavors and saltiness like that found in Spam are highly sought after.

“That’s the point we concentrated on for marketing Spam in Korea - positioning it as a light side dish that goes well with rice and kimchi,” said a CJ spokesman. “On the way, we had to fight against rumors that Spam contained animal organs and an image that it was a quick army food.”

Thanks to long years of marketing, the spokesman added that Spam now has a better image among young people than older consumers who still remember the product as the only meat alternative provided by American soldiers when food was scarce after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Spam is also a common feature in gift sets given at holidays like Chuseok (Korean harvest festival) and the Lunar New Year. These two occasions are responsible for 60 percent of Spam revenue earned throughout the year, according to CJ.

Although popular gift sets come and go, Spam has remained a steady seller for the last two decades as a practical and moderately priced gift.


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

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