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K-food exports surpass $10b milestone in November

Nov. 23, 2023 - 15:11 By Kim Hae-yeon
Cabbages, the main ingredient of kimchi, are on display at a local supermarket in Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korea's exports of food, agricultural products, smart farm equipment and technology, have achieved a new high this November, passing the $10 billion mark, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Thursday.

Fueled by the global Korean food boom, the collective exports of Korean food, related agricultural products and technology -- collectively referred to as the "K-Food+" sector by the government -- reached $10.48 billion by the third week of November. The figure is 1.2 percent higher than the same period last year.

Notably, exports in the agri-food sector have consistently grown since turning positive in September's second week.

By the third week of November, export figures reached $7.91 billion, indicating a one percent year-on-year increase and nearing a potential peak for the annual performance.

Increasing the country’s food-related exports has been one of the Food Ministry’s main goals this year, having launched the "K-Food+ Export Promotion Team" in January. The team's strategic focus is on industrializing and expanding export markets within the agri-food and related food sectors.

In April, the ministry hosted the "2023 K-Food+ Buy Korean Food" fair, providing Korean agro-food exporters with opportunities for one-on-one trade negotiations with foreign buyers. The event drew participation from 457 companies representing 40 countries. Attendees included major foreign buyers such as Carrefour from Europe, Aeon from Japan, UNFI from the US, Hema Xiansheng from China and ParknShop from Hong Kong.

Examining specific categories within the export data, there is a notable demand for processed foods like ramen, snacks, beverages, and gimbap, as well as fresh agricultural products such as strawberries.

The growth of K-Food+ exports is further propelled by smart farms, seeds and pesticides.

Korean ramen sales reached $840 million by the third week of November, surpassing the previous year's record of $770 million and setting a new record high.

The global popularity of Korean ramen, aided by the K-content trend and the influence of social media, is poised to reach $1 billion this year, leading the overall growth in agricultural exports.

Frozen and packaged gimbap are showcased at the "2023 Coex Food Week" on Wednesday, in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)

Rice-processed foods, particularly gimbap, have gained substantial popularity in the US and Europe, recording $190 million by the third week of November, marking a 17.9 percent increase from last year. The market for frozen and packaged gimbap, recently introduced in the US, is also witnessing significant demand.

Exports of fresh fruit such as strawberries are also growing rapidly, particularly to Southeast Asia, with a projected growth of over 30 percent compared to the previous year. Exports of Citrons, pears and grapes are also growing steadily.

In farm technology, which encompasses hardware and software, there was a 2 percent year-on-year increase to $2.56 billion. Smart farms are particularly thriving, with exports and orders experiencing a threefold increase, amounting to $260 million.

Exports of agricultural pesticides have also expanded, particularly to the US and Australia, reaching a total of $410 million. This marks a twofold increase from the previous year.

Following the South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar in October, the Food Ministry anticipates further growth.

The ministry's strategic focus is on reducing logistics costs, implementing strategic promotions, facilitating market development and intensively managing export companies to sustain and achieve record-breaking K-Food+ exports by year-end.

"Such growth in K-Food+ exports during challenging times is a result of the collaborative efforts of farmers and export companies," Kwon Jae-han, head of the Food Ministry's agricultural innovation policy office, said. "We will leverage our policy capabilities to ensure that agricultural food and related industries achieve record results by year-end."