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Korea has become an affluent country with per-capita GDP of US$ 30,000. A country where the population was on the brink of starvation half a century ago, Korea now creates about 13,000 tons of food waste everyday.
Lifestyles have also changed, with more than 50% of married women working outside the home. High disposable income combined with the pressures of working life and a high level of exposure to global cuisine have influenced the national diet towards seeking a greater variety of convenient meal solutions.
The Home Meal Replacement (HMR) market has more than doubled between 2010 and 2016 for all categories according to all expert sources. However, based on one source, , the total market reached 2.774 trillion KRW in 2016 (US$ 2.3 billion, €2.2 billion). This rapid growth rate is expected to accelerate in 2018 and beyond as lifestyles continue to change.
Traditional labor-intensive Korean cooking (rice, soup and kimchee with multiple side dishes prepared fresh daily) is quickly giving way to more international and convenient foods. Ready to Eat, Ready to Heat, Ready to Cook and Ready to Prepare foods are pushing aside traditional meals. At the same time, consumer demand is driving up the quality and variety of products available on the market. Korean consumers continue to give equally high priority to the health, quality, and taste of food along with demand for ease of preparation. Frozen foods are currently growing in popularity over chilled foods due to their longer shelf life.
Convenience stores are the primary channel for HMR products to consumers. However, a bigger market is the food service sector, which accounts for over one third of HMR sales. The main driver for this sector’s success is its ability to provide restauranteurs with labor savings and menu variety at a reasonable cost.
Definitions of HMR and related regulations are still developing but existing government standards are high and detailed.
With a growing market and interest in variety, there is plenty of room for new entrants. Opportunities include new varieties of food, packaging and storing technologies and creative distribution. A local presence will be essential to monitor local trends and to establish and maintain relationships with the trade. Working with a local partner offers a time-tested strategy for success choosing the right partner determines success.
Companies interested in exploring the Korean HMR market are invited to contact IRC Consulting, a business development team with a 30+-year history of assisting Western organizations in achieving their objectives in Korea.
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