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[Herald Interview] Woman’s touch puts Sempio on the map

In just a month, Sempio Foods has raised its target for the sales of “A Hundred Years” to 60 billion won ($55.9 million) by 50 percent after watching the bottles of citron vinegar fly off the shelves.

Behind the smash hit is Suh Dong-soon.

The 46-year-old director of marketing is the first female executive at the condiment maker in its 65 years in business.
 
Sempio director of marketing Suh Dong-soon.(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Sempio director of marketing Suh Dong-soon.(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Under her guidance, “A Hundred Years” saw sales surge by more than 17-fold in two years, and boast a market share of 20 percent.

Suh knows her promotion reflected this success, and is a sign that the company expects more, but she also emphasized that her job was not to make drastic changes.

“We want to keep doing what we are good at, which is soy sauce and fermented sauces in general,” Suh told The Korea Herald.

She said the only difference from 65 years ago was global reach.

“We know it’s important to introduce the Korean culinary culture and diet to the world, and that’s something we are hoping to accomplish with the Sempio brand,” Suh said.

Sempio has a presence in more than 60 countries, and runs corporations in the U.S. and China.

Chefs at restaurants with Michelin guide stars have used the company’s sauces and condiments ― all made the traditional Korean way ― and raved over how clean they feel on the palate.

“This is only the beginning. I think it’s a part of our legacy and our obligation to society to introduce Korean food to global palates, not only because of the good taste, but because Korean food is just naturally good for you,” Suh said.

The director is a food and nutrition expert recruited for the purpose of combining marketing with technical expertise in the products Sempio sells.

Suh also seems to be armed with a keen marketing sense, as she made the decision to launch the new commercials with good-looking family-men actors and more importantly, to adopt a new product name.

For Sempio, the decisions were actually quite radical; it took 60 years for the firm to adopt a new company image and logo in 2006.

“Of course we can do more commercials or push our products into popular programs and do all the other things our rivals are doing, but that’s not us,” Suh said.

The history of Sempio goes back to 1946 when it was launched as a soy-sauce maker bearing the yellow sleeve that Koreans have grown up with.

Sempio, in short, is a comfort brand that gives Koreans a sense of home and is the longest-standing listed company in Korea.

“Sempio is Korea, a brand that people keep coming back to, and that’s why we’re confident that our approach to promote simple and healthy foods will in the end, win over consumers,” Suh said before ending the interview.

Last but not least, she said her new post has its challenges, but that her family, especially her children, were proud and pleased to see their mother in such an important role. 

By Kim Ji-hyun (jemmie@heraldcorp.com)
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