Kimchi trade swings into surplus
According to the Korea Customs Service and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on Monday, Korea reported a $22.7 million won kimchi trade surplus in the first seven months of this year.
If the trend continues, 2021 could be Korea's first trade surplus since 2010. Last year, the kimchi deficit was $7.9 million.
Another significant factor is on the demand side. There is growing global demand for Korea's most iconic food, which is considered good for the health.
In the first seven months, Korea’s kimchi exports increased 17 percent year-on-year to $99.3 million.
At that rate, kimchi exports could break a new record by the end of this year.
Kimchi is popular among health conscious young people and foodies, with new marketing attempts succeeding in increasing its appeal abroad.
“[Some kimchi] has earned halal certificates to target Muslim customers, while there are even vegan kimchis that doesn’t use jeotgal [fermented fish or shellfish] and products that are canned so they can be carried around easily,” said an official at the Food Ministry.
However, the biggest contributor has been a sharp decline in kimchi imports from China.
In March, a leaked video of a half-naked Chinese man in a sludge-colored pool throwing Napa cabbages into a rusty excavator at a kimchi making plant in China went viral.
That unappetizing promotion led to kimchi imports from China falling for four consecutive months, as restaurants in Korea stopped serving kimchi imported from China.
In the first seven months, kimchi imports amounted to $76.6 million won, which was an 8.2 percent decline.
In 2020, Korea imported $152.4 million worth of kimchi, which was a 16.4 percent year-on-year increase. Some 99.9 percent came from China. Korean restaurants and cafeterias relied heavily on Chinese kimchi, which costs one third the price of kimchi made in Korea.
Imports of kimchi overshadowed Korea’s own achievement in the opposite direction: Korea’s kimchi exports last year set a record of $144.5 million.