As K-pop and Korean culture continue to connect with audiences across the globe, Korean products too are finding their place in the international market.

In November 2011, the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation’s monthly magazine Agra Food compiled a list of the world’s top ten best-selling Korean food products, with Orion Corporation’s Choco Pies coming in first.

K-pop girl group Kara, promotional models for flavored vinegar beverage Hongcho (Photo: Yonhap News).

Once dubbed “the 35g diplomat,” Choco Pies have brought 700 billion won in sales in China alone. The round cake with layers of chocolate and marshmallow first entered the Chinese market 14 years ago as the “Good Friends Pie,” with specially designed packaging in red, a famously auspicious color in Chinese culture. Such targeted marketing has helped Choco Pie sales to grow by 30% annually for the past several years.

In Russia, where Choco Pies have been produced and distributed locally since 2006, sales recently surpassed 4 billion won. The brand also briefly shared the spotlight with President Dmitry Medvedev last September, when a Reuters photograph of the Russian leader having a Choco Pie with his midday tea surfaced on the internet.

Agra Food also named Nongshim Shin Ramyun, the iconic Korean instant noodle brand that has become a premium brand in China, Hongcho, the red vinegar drink that has been successfully marketed by K-pop group Kara, and Binggrae Melona creamsicles, which sell by the millions in Brazil every month. The magazine also traced the popularity of Korean crab-shaped crackers to the seafood-scarce Siberian region, where the product is a favorite snack often paired with alcohol. Organic aloe beverages, milk-flavored carbonated drinks, instant coffee mix, and soju also appeared on the list.

Market O Real Brownies, which placed second on Agra Food's list, debuted in Japan in June 2011. Less than two months later, the product took the top seller spot in Japan’s cookie and biscuit market, remaining there for over twelve weeks.

According to Japanese weekly business magazine Nikkei Business, major domestic supermarket chains like Ito-Yokado have to keep a large supply of Market O Real Brownies on hand to meet growing demand by Japanese consumers. Marketed as a specialty product free of artificial additives and vegetable oils and offered by premium food shops and convenience stores alike, Market O Real Brownies are popular gifts among young women.

(Left) The cover story of the 2012 year-end issue of Japanese business magazine Nikkei Business analyzed the recent popularity of Korean products, including vinegar drinks and canned makgeolli, among Japanese consumers (Photos: Nikkei Business, Newswire).

The cover story of the recent year-end issue of Nikkei Business, published on December 26, pointed to Market O Real Brownies as just one example of Korean imports that have risen to marked visibility and success in the Japanese market. Nikkei Business identified the trend as a reflection of both the popularity of Korean goods and the damage dealt to domestic industries as a result of the March earthquake.

Another winning item has been Hongcho, the flavored vinegar beverage touted as a daily health and beauty staple for Korean women, sales of which reached 2.4 billion yen, surpassing the company's yearly revenue target for 2011 by eight times. In March 2011, Japan’s alcoholic beverage market welcomed “Seoul Makgeolli,” produced by Korea’s Lotte and distributed by Japan’s Suntory. Over 350,000 boxes of the canned beverage were sold within two months of the product's release, and together with sales from various competitors' products, captured 60% of Japan’s makgeolli market in 2011. The makgeolli market itself doubled in size over the year.

Nikkei Business also attributes the growth in demand for Korean-made products to the involvement of Hallyu stars in marketing and promotion. Lotte, for example, signed on actor Jang Geun-suk, whom Japanese fans call “Geun-jjang,” to promote Seoul Makgeolli.

In 2011, K-pop groups TVXQ and Girls’ Generation partnered with 7-Eleven, Japan’s largest convenience store chain, to design and advertise a line of Hansik products that were subsequently distributed to over 13,000 outlets nationwide. JYJ member Park Yoo-chun recently signed on to promote a noodle product for Korean brand Ottogi.

(Right) Korean brand instant noodles line a shelf display in a supermarket in Moscow (Photo: Yonhap News).

With Hallyu stars lending their names and images to market various Korean products, consumers’ awareness of Korean brands has grown.

Last year, over 300 buyers from across Europe attended the Korea Brand Entertainment Expo (KBEE) in Paris, where 71 Korean companies, including YG Entertainment, Pororo creator Iconix, fashion brand Kolon, and coffee franchise Café Benne introduced their products and services. The sight of over 5,000 K-pop fans waiting to get into the Expo’s K-pop concert, many of them slurping up Korean brand cup-noodles while in line, also caught the attention of the local media.

Korean franchises have also ventured into the international market with considerable success.

On December 6, 2011, SPC Group, which owns the popular bakery chain Paris Baguette, published advertisements in Shanghai, China, to find clients interested in operating local franchises. Over 1,000 responses arrived from not only Beijing and Shanghai but also areas as far as Hainan and Urumqi. SPC Group currently operates 75 stores in China, and plans to increase this number to 200 by 2015.

Korean food company CJ Cheil Jedang has also expanded the scope of operations for its BBQ Chicken franchise, which currently counts 350 stores worldwide. Of these, 176 are located in China, where BBQ Chicken has signed a master franchise contract for each of the country’s provinces. BBQ Chicken, which introduced its global business model in 2003, has recently opened stores in Spain, Turkey, and Ecuador.

Left: Tous Les Jours opened its first shop in the Philippines in Malina. Right: An employee dressed in a hanbok draws customers' attention to the Korean product corner at the Lotte Mart in Qingdao, China (Photos: Newswire).  

Korean fast food franchise Lotteria counts 102 stores to its name in Vietnam alone, and recently opened its first store in Indonesia. Other companies setting up shop outside of Korea include fresh fruit dessert shop Can-more, which recently signed a partnership contract with Japan’s largest taxi company and opened its first Japanese branch, handmade burger restaurant Kraze, which has stores in Macau, Hong Kong, and the United States, and bakery café chain Tous Les Jours, which has reinvented itself as a high-end brand name in Vietnam.

Retailer Lotte Mart has more outlets overseas (121) than it does in Korea (94). According to a report produced by KOTRA on December 15 regarding the spread of Hallyu and Korean products in Southeast Asia, Lotte Mart has received a positive reception in Indonesia with its unique management style, while GS Home Shopping has reached new audiences in Thailand.

LG Life & Health’s cosmetics brand The Face Shop opened its 300th store last March, and doubled the number of its overseas stores over the past year. Missha has expanded its reach to Venezuela and the Arab Emirates, and with a total of 990 stores in 23 countries, has the largest number of overseas shops among domestic cosmetics brands.

Left: A Missha shop in the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall. Top right:  A display for The Face Shop products attracts customers at Walgreen's, a U.S. drugstore chain. Top bottom: Actress Han Ji-min attends a new product launching event for cosmetics brand Mamonde in Beijing, China (Photos: Newswire). 

Meanwhile, fashion retailers E-land and Black Yak have introduced Korean clothing lines to Chinese consumers with much success. E-land has earned over 1.6 trillion won in revenue in the Chinese market. Black Yak has received praise from Chinese mountain-climbing enthusiasts for its outdoor wear line, and will increase its store count to 800 by 2015.

By Kwon Jungyun Staff Writer