Local food giant CJ Group hopes to expand its international reach with the iconic Korean cuisine bibimbap, a steamed rice dish mixed with assorted vegetables and meat.
CJ, which launched bibimbap restaurant chain Bibigo in May 2010, said it plans to increase the number of overseas Bibigo locations from the current three to 17 within the year.
Bibigo, which was envisioned as a global brand from its beginnings, has a total of 10 stores now, including branches in Los Angeles, Beijing and Singapore.
Customers eat bibimbap at a Bibigo restaurant in Los Angeles. (CJ Foodville)
Rather than insisting on traditional Korean style, Bibigo offers bibimbap items with a modern twist by embracing the quick dining trend, which is gaining popularity globally.
At each Bibigo store, customers are allowed to select their favorite ingredients, including the choice of rice, sauce and key topping, and their customized bibimbap is served in less than one minute.
Coupled with the recent well-being trend, Bibigo attracts health-conscious customers and tourists who want to experience easy Korean cuisine at affordable prices.
“In Seoul stores, more than 20 percent of customers are foreign nationals. Some stores have become a tourist spot among travelers,” said an official of CJ Foodville, the restaurant service unit of CJ.
Currently, the five locations in Seoul are operated as a test bed to gauge customer reaction to new menu items and its staff members are trained there to be dispatched to stores abroad.
During the 2010 G20 Summit in Seoul, CJ also offered Bibigo’s bibimbap to participants at the event’s main venue, COEX in southern Seoul.
Based on the positive reviews from customers, Bibigo this year aims to step up efforts to expand its presence in overseas markets, especially in countries such as the U.K., the U.S., Japan and China.
The brand, in particular, hopes to seize an opportunity to enter the European market starting with a new opening in London before the Summer Olympics there in July.
“Adding to the quick-dining concept of fast food chains like McDonald’s, the healthy ingredients of bibimbap are believed to appeal to foreign customers,” the official said.
Along with Bibigo, CJ Foodville has tried to nurture global brands in its restaurant chain business in recent years.
Its bakery chain Tous les Jours is already a big name in Southeast Asian countries, while steakhouse VIPS and specialty coffee chain Twosome Place are planning global launches this year.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org