Dubai, UAE: Food is an important export and a major contributor to Korean economy with retail food sales reaching US$93.2 billion in 2017, accounting for 28 percent of total retail sales that provides the lifeline to the country’s economy.

Grocery supermarkets were the leading retail channel for food products in the Korean retail industry with an estimated 41.6 trillion won or US$36.8 billion of food sales in 2017, followed by hypermarkets with 17.2 trillion won or US$15.3 billion, according to US Food Export Association.

“Korean cuisine has continued to gain worldwide popularity since the early 2010s, and roughly 45.1 percent of respondents in a survey on Korean cultural contents in 2020 stated, that Korean food was very popular in their country,” according to a report by Statista – a market intelligence service provider.

Korean food was also widely known and popular among the general public, with approximately 30.4 percent of respondents answering that way.

Korea had over 29,000 food-processing companies as of 2018, generating $66.1 billion in sales. South Korea has the 12th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $1.6 trillion and a per capita GNI of $32,047 in 2019.

Korean consumers place a high premium on convenience as busy urban lifestyles leave little time for traditional home cooked meals. Today over half of households consist of one or two members and more women have joined the workforce.

These demographic changes have led to growing demand for home meal replacement products in retail stores, as well as take-out meals in restaurants. However, due to similar developments in other countries, demand for similar Korean food is growing, resulting in international acceptance of Korean food.

Korean food or K-food is its biggest soft power, after Korean Pop or K-Pop and other socio-cultural activities that re-shape the Korean lifestyle.

According to Korea Customs Service on June 14, the country’s F&B exports totaled $4.28 billion last year, growing 14.7 percent from $3.73 billion in 2019. The segment is still strong this year, recording $1.59 billion exports up to April. Industry analysts say the annual figure will likely surpass 5 trillion won or US$4.47 billion in 2021.

Korean food and beverage products enjoyed by international consumers have previously been limited to only a few well-known condiments and dishes such as kimchi, bulgogi (marinated beef BBQ) and bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetable bowl).

Hyouk Kim, Director for Korean Agro Trade Center Dubai, says, “Korean food is gaining global popularity due to a global recognition of the food and nutrition value of Korean food. At the Korean Pavilion at Expo 2020, we are offering a glimpse of our soft power including Korean food to the international visitors and local residents.

“We are happy to note that Korean food is gaining popularity in the UAE and the GCC where consumers are becoming health conscious gradually. When it comes to health, nutrition, well-being and longevity, there is no alternative to Korean food and the good news is that the world is taking note of it.

“That’s why the production and export of Korean food is gaining ground and our food exports have continued to grow despite the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that reduced economic activities worldwide, with the exception of Korean food production and export.”

South Korea’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional (HRI) sector had been growing rapidly until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. HRI sales totaled W138 trillion Korean Won or US$120.2 billion in 2018, up 7.7 percent from the year before.

Monthly per capita spending on dining out reached W138,403 won or US$120 in 2019. Dining out accounts for half of Korean household food and beverage expenditures and 16 percent of total expenditures.


About aT Center

Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp. (aT Center) is a wholly government-invested enterprise responsible for agricultural marketing services and international trade since its incorporation in 1967. a-T Centre provides support services for the Korean agricultural industry through marketing activities and undertaking export agent functions for large number of small and medium size agro-processors.

aT Center also provides various agricultural trade information to domestic exporters and foreign buyers. To support overseas market development, aT Center operates offices (Overseas Agro-Trade Center) in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Chengdu, Dalian, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Dubai, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka and Vladivostok. Web: 

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