LOS ANGELES ― CJ Group on Wednesday unveiled its plan to become the No. 1 Asian food company in the United States by 2020 ― a test-bed market for new food trends ― using a unique combination of its supremacy both in the food and entertainment businesses.
“Efforts for globalization of Korean food have thus far showed no progress. We will make history in the nation’s food culture business,” said CJ Corp. CEO Lee Gwan-hoon in a press conference.
|CJ Corp. CEO Lee Gwan-hoon speaks at a hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (CJ Group)|
He pledged to elevate the group’s U.S. sales, now at 200 billion won ($179 million), to 1 trillion won by 2020. If the goals are acheived, CJ will see more than half of its profits in the food industry, or 8 trillion won, from overseas sales.
Under a longer-term plan, the Korean food giant, which launched its bibimbap restaurant chain Bibigo in 2010, said it will use the brand name for all its food products targeting overseas markets.
Bibigo currently operates 14 stores in the U.S., China, Singapore, the U.K., Japan and Indonesia, with the Los Angeles branch being located in the posh district of Beverly Hills.
CJ’s strategy is to encourage people to experience Korean food first at Bibigo restaurants, and let their positive experience lead them to purchase its own food items such as dumplings, special sauces and kimchi.
CJ acquired Annie Chun’s, an all-natural Asian food company based in the U.S., in 2006 and started ramping up efforts to enter the U.S. market, securing distribution channels such as Wal-Mart and Costco and expanding its product portfolio to include more Korean food.
The key item is Korean-style dumplings. Of the 200 billion won in CJ’s U.S. sales, dumplings make up 80 billion won and the sales figure is expected to exceed that in Korea this year, the group said.
Even though the dish is found in many cultures around the world, officials said, it is also an appropriate item to appeal to Americans who are still not familiar with traditional Korean food.
“Most of them have experienced Chinese dumplings. So we have come up with Korean-style dumplings that are smaller, more thinly wrapped and, of course, more delicious,” said Chin Joo-hong, CJ America CEO.
“Dumplings will pave the way for us to start targeting American consumers,” he said, adding it would put Korean touches on the dumplings as they are stuffed with Korean food like bulgogi, kimchi and japchae (mixed vegetables with clear noodles).
Adding to its two dumpling factories in Paramount, California, and Brooklyn, New York, CJ plans to start production at a new factory in Fullerton, 42 kilometers from Los Angeles, in early December. The total dumpling output will be 30,000 tons.
Regarding the absence of chairman Lee Jae-hyun, the CEO acknowledged that it was taking longer to make critical decisions, especially on business expansion abroad including mergers and acquisitions.
“It is true that we cannot use the current business momentum fully. But we will overcome the situation wisely,” Lee said.
The group plans to seek M&A opportunities worth 5 trillion won aggressively in the coming years, with no pending deals currently on hand.
By Lee Ji-yoon, Korea Herald correspondent