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Cheonbo seeks to be top whole food brand

Company chief Choi sees high potential in Korea’s agricultural industry

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Published : 2013-09-30 19:49
Updated : 2014-06-11 14:44

Herald Corp. chairman Jungwook Hong (right) and Cheonbo Natural Food CEO Choi Jung-hwi inspect organic rice at the food company’s factory in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province. 
(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
CHUNGJU, North Chungcheong Province ― In terms of growth, exports and investment, the Korean agricultural industry has lagged behind other key industries such as digital devices, semiconductors, shipbuilding and automobiles.

But Choi Jung-hwi, president of Cheonbo Natural Food, or CBNF, sees huge potential in the nation’s farm industry, particularly in the organic and whole food market.

The 39-year-old CEO said he saw a bright future for the organic food business in Korea when he made trips to rural areas and foreign countries.

“In 2005 when I was traveling through Germany, I found that organic farming was gaining popularity nationwide and I thought a similar trend would form in Korea soon as Korean people started to care more about safety and quality of food products than quantity as their incomes grew,’’ Choi said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“A number of Korean family farms in rural areas were producing quality organic agricultural products, but they didn’t know how or where to sell their products to the market. I found market potential in this gap,’’ Choi said.

The young entrepreneur moved to Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, which is famous for producing quality rice, and set up Cheonbo Natural Food in 2006.

Positioning itself as an organic food provider, CBNF has developed a sourcing network with quality organic food producers in Korea, while driving sales pitch to major retail channels, including the nation’s leading supermarket chains like E-mart, department stores, eco-friendly food markets and online stores.

The company has grown at fast pace, posting a double-digit annual growth for the first four years. It has become the No. 1 organic food provider in Korea as its sales exceeded 20 billion won ($18.6 million) for the first time in 2010. 

Cheonbo Natural Food’s factory in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
In 2009, Choi’s business made another turning point by making facility investments in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, and relocating the firm’s headquarters there.

“CBNF invested in building two world-class food processing plants to expand into less-processed and healthy whole food products beyond the organic food market,’’ Choi said.

At the same time, he made an effort to get globally recognized food safety certificates not only for domestic but also overseas sales in the future. For the first time in Korea’s rice and grain industry, the company won the ISO 22000 certification in 2009, the highest international standard of food safety.

“One of the firm’s ultimate goals is to introduce Korean organic and whole food products to the global food market,’’ Choi said.

CBNF diversified its product portfolio through research and development activities and by importing organic whole food items, which are not produced at home, including U.S. almonds and dried raisins and Peruvian quinoa.

Currently, CBNF supplies up to 180 organic and whole food items.

“I expect our partnership with Herald will offer CBNF a chance for the third leap. As a professional CEO in the agricultural sector, I’d like to make a contribution to nurturing Organica into a globally competitive whole food maker,’’ Choi said.

Choi graduated from Sahmyook University with a major in theology and received an MBA from Yonsei University in 2013.

By Seo Jee-yeon (jyseo@heraldcorp.com)

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