Expensive fruits photograph well – and taste good too
For conspicuous consumption Korean style, designer bags and shoes are so 20th century. The best way to impress these days is to nibble on expensive fruits – and to do so on social media if at all possible.
June is peach season, but there are peaches and there is the flat peach. Regular peaches sell for 7,000 won ($6.29) per 500 grams (17.64 ounce). A package of four flat peaches, roughly 500 grams, sells at SSG.com for 19,800 won – almost triple the price. No wonder many Koreans have gone on social media to express their preference, with 33,000 photos on Instagram hashtagged “flat peach” as of Friday.
Flat peaches, which look squashed but are sweeter than regular peaches, aren’t the only fruit being used to annoy friends and family. When is a watermelon something more? When it's an apple watermelon, which has a rind so thin it can be peeled with a knife. If you want to peel a loved one a grape, make it a black sapphire grape. On Instagram, there were 11,000 posts of Koreans using the hashtag “black sapphire grape” as of Monday.
The King's berry is a strawberry almost as big as a person’s palm. White strawberries are particularly sweet and have a unique whitish color. A 600-gram pack of king's berries are priced at 12,000 won online; a 450-gram pack of white strawberries goes for 20,000 won. Normal strawberries can be found just about anywhere for 8,000 won for a 500-gram pack.
According to Emart, sales of its premium strawberries between January and May increased 33 percent on year, while sales of seolhyang strawberries, the most common type seen at supermarkets, rose 21 percent. Premium varieties made up 30.6 percent of Emart's strawberry sales in that period, up 12.6 percentage points on year.
Market Kurly sells seolhyang as a staple item, and carried two types of premium strawberries, jukhyang and arihyang as of 2019. This year, the e-commerce platform added six more premium strawberries – keumsil, janghee, yukbo, mary queen, vitaberry and white strawberries – due to popular demand. In 2020, sales of seolhyang rose 4 percent on year while jukhyang and arihyang rose 1,341 percent.
“Nowadays, there are more customers who want to buy never-seen-before fruits rather than just normal strawberries,” said a spokesperson for Market Kurly.
One of the pioneer luxury fruits was the shine muscat, a sweeter version of seedless green grapes. Despite being sold for a pricey 15,000 won a bunch – compared to 11,000 for regular grapes – they flew off shelves. Shine muscats were the bestselling fruit at Emart in 2019.
“Three to four years ago, shine muscats would instantly sell out every time Market Kurly stocked them on its website,” said Mrs. Han, a 35-year-old office worker living in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul. “When I come across new fruits, I always buy them even though they’re expensive because I want my kids to try them at least once. I even take pictures of them because I might not be able to buy them ever again."
Instagram has over 150,000 posts using the hashtag “shine muscat” in Korean.
Analysts say there's a confluence of factors favoring luxury fruits. With some of the fruits originating in foreign countries, like black sapphire grapes and flat peaches, they offer an excuse to people wishing to boast about past travels.
“Sales of luxury fruits surged as an increasing number of customers began to take photos of the fruits and uploaded them to social media,” said Lee Eun-hee, who teaches consumer studies at Inha University's College of Social Sciences.
“I was able to eat as many mangosteens, papayas and durians as I wanted when I was in Thailand, and now I have a constant craving for those fruits because I'm unable to travel due to the pandemic,” said Mrs. Kim, a 32-year-old housewife. “Eating has been one of my stress relief methods, and I tend to purchase expensive fruits despite the high price.”
Retailers are importing a wider variety of luxury fruit, hoping to find the next shine muscat. Will it be stevia tomatoes, which contain stevia, a natural zero-calorie sweetener? Or candy heart grapes, a red grape that tastes like candy? Talk about a sweet spot!
BY BAE JUNG-WON [email@example.com]