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South Korea Backs Return of Kimchi to China with Promotional TV Push

Banned for six years by food hygiene rules, Korean kimchi is now finally returning to mainland supermarket shelves.

Photo: Korean Kimchi: A hot topic with import legislators.
Korean Kimchi: A hot topic with import legislators.
Photo: Korean Kimchi: A hot topic with import legislators.
Korean Kimchi: A hot topic with import legislators.

South Korea is to resume the mass-export of kimchi to China for the first time in six years. Back in 2010, such exports were blocked after Beijing raised concerns over hygiene issues related to the product, a traditional spicy Korean side dish with a cabbage base.

In October 2015, however, at a summit meeting between Chinese and Korean government officials, it was agreed to relax the relevant regulations. Previously kimchi had been deemed to transgress mainland food safety guidelines related to bacterial content.

Following the summit, low levels of kimchi exports to China resumed. In the nine months to July this year, however, only 31 tons of kimchi – valued at around US$121,000 – were exported to China.

On 26 August this year, however, it was announced that the Wanda Group, the Dalian-based conglomerate, was to import 100 tons of Korean kimchi for sale in its department stores across China. According to Korea's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), four kimchi companies in the northeastern Gangwon Province have been signed up to the deal, with the total contract said to be worth more than $405,000.The first shipment of seven tons is believed to have already been dispatched.

Despite this relaxation in the entry regulations, Korean kimchi still has some way to go if it is to successfully woo mainland consumer. Speaking after the Wanda deal was announced, a MAFRA official outlined the challenges the dish now faces.

He said: "When it is sold in China, Korean kimchi is nine times more expensive than its Chinese counterpart. As yet, Chinese consumers cannot tell the difference between premium Korean-made kimchi and factory-made Chinese kimchi, even though our product is made with higher-quality sun-dried salt, cabbage and red pepper powder."

In a bid to educate the palate of Chinese consumers, the Korean government is now planning a high-profile promotional campaign that will run across the mainland, with a focus on highlighting the finer points of Korean kimchi.

Outlining the scale of the initiative, the MAFRA official said: "In November, CCTV will show a documentary focussing on the natural advantages of Korean kimchi. This will be followed by a TV advertising campaign and a number of other marketing initiatives, including the introduction of Korean cooking classes in a several parts of China."

Michelle Lee, Seoul Consultant

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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