Korean retailers use Pokemon bread to their advantage for those who gotta catch 'em all
The hunt for Pokemon doesn’t only happen in the virtual gaming world anymore — people in Korea are trying to catch 'em all as childhood nostalgia pushes them to search for the notoriously elusive Pokemon bread.
“I have been going to every convenience store I pass by, since the Pokemon bread was released in February, and checking if there is any available, but I was only lucky enough to buy one,” said 28-year-old Kim Hye-rim. “I really wanted to buy the pastries because I used to collect the Pokemon stickers when I was in elementary school.”
“I would store them in sticker albums and have so much fun trading duplicates with my friends.”
Pokemon bread is a series of pastries that became very popular in the early 2000s due to the collectible stickers inside the package, but was discontinued in 2006. Brought back this year on Feb. 24, people have been scrambling to get their hands on the Pokemon stickers once again, aiming to collect the full set of 159 stickers.
Manufacturer SPC Samlip introduced a new product called Pokemon roll cake on Monday on Coupang, but the stock of 2,000 sold out immediately. It retails for 15,000 won ($12), higher than the price of an average Pokemon bread that ranges between 1,500 won to 3,500 won, but has three stickers inside.
Pokemon bread's popularity shows no signs of ending anytime soon, thanks to high demand from people who were children when the product first hit stores in the 2000s. Lee Eun-hee, a professor teaching consumer studies at Inha University, says nostalgia is one of the main reasons why so many people are chasing after the Pokemon pastries.
“People in their 20s and 30s are considered adults based on their age, but handling the responsibilities of a real adult is difficult, so they tend to go wild over things they liked when they were children to take their minds off the stress,” said Prof. Lee.
Over 15 million pastries were sold within the first two months of its release.
Nostalgia does play a role, but children who didn’t experience the Pokemon bread craze in the 2000s are also helping drive the trend.
Park, a woman in her 40s, said she was trying to buy Pokemon bread for her elementary school son, as she lined up at an Emart branch in Yongsan District, central Seoul, in the morning before it opened on April 15.
“My son has been trying to buy the Pokemon bread but was only able to snag a few, so I decided to try lining up at the discount store just in case I could get more for him,” said Park. “It’s a really big trend among his friends.”
The pastries have been near impossible to buy, and customers have been resorting to waiting in long lines at discount stores before they open, making a dash for what is in stock.
Over 30 people gathered in line with Park that day, running to a cart filled with Pokemon bread when the discount store opened. There was a limit to three pastries per person, and she also left with three.
Singer and songwriter Yoon Jong-shin on April 6 posted a screenshot on Instagram of him using the CU application to look up the number of Pokemon bread in stock at nearby CU branches. The picture was accompanied by the caption: “I’m now downloading convenience store applications because of Ra-im,” referring to his 14-year-old daughter.
“The stickers are popular among people who actually bought Pokemon bread back in the 2000s, but they are also huge among young elementary and middle school students,” Lee said. “Cute-looking Pokemon stickers are something that can easily become trendy among the young, and they also become fond of the stickers because there is a tendency of wanting to follow what others do on social media.”
With people obsessing over Pokemon stickers, some businesses have been using the craze to their advantage, offering Pokemon bread only as a bundle to sell extra products.
A picture from a mom-and-pop store went viral for selling one Pokemon bread as a bundle with two packs of puffed rice snacks for a total of 6,500 won. Seoul Garden Hotel & Suites, a hotel in Gangneung, Gangwon, gave two Pokemon bread to lodgers who stayed at its superior double and twin rooms between April 1 and 30.
A similar scene took place in 2014, when Koreans were scavenging discount stores to get their hands on the infamous Honey Butter Chip snacks.
Manufacturer Haitai Confectionery & Foods sold the Honey Butter Chip as part of a bundle with three other varieties of the company’s chips for a brief 6-day period. Customers accused the company was using the Honey Butter Chip as bait so people would buy three other chips, and the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) conducted an investigation into the situation.
The FTC concluded that it was a "tie-in" sale, but said it wasn’t illegal because there are a lot of substitutes to the Honey Butter Chip, giving customers a choice whether they want to buy the 4-pack bundle or not.
“[Tie-in sales] do go against consumers’ rights because it forces them to buy things they may not want if they want to buy the Pokemon bread,” said a spokesperson for a food retailer that wanted to remain anonymous. “The FTC could step in and investigate, but it seems like it isn’t doing so because the tie-in sales don’t happen much.”
BY LEE TAE-HEE [email@example.com]