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Korea’s baby market undeterred by economic slowdown

From couples with babies on strollers to seniors holding toddlers’ hands, a recent annual baby fair held at Coex, in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, was packed with a sea of Koreans wanting to explore the latest and premium products for their children. 

The three-day event that ended Sunday had about 110,000 visitors, according to organizers, reflecting Korean parents’ unwavering love for their children and their endless interests on the market. 

The market has been thriving in recent years, despite falling birthrates and growing fears over a slowing economy. Korea’s fertility rate is among the lowest in the world. The size of the baby market, however, has been growing rapidly in recent years, and is expected to grow further. The market is now estimated at 1.7 trillion won ($1.38 billion).

“The number of parents having one kid has been growing. Those parents, even though they might not be able to afford it financially, are more willing to pay for what they believe is necessary for their kids’ well-being,” said an industry watcher. 

Concerns over the economic downturn has led to a growing number of customers looking for quality local products offered at reasonable prices, organizers said.

Interest, however, still remains high for European products such as strollers priced at around 2 million won and baby chairs offered at nearly 500,000 won each, as young parents are more open to spending money on luxury goods than the older generation, they added.

A recent Scandinavian fever has also been heating up the market, particularly its luxury segment. 

Parents think highly of Nordic designs and brands that stress safety and cleanliness, according to reports quoting comments from industry insiders. This is why foreign brands have been diversifying retail channels in order to reach out to more customers. They have been making aggressive marketing efforts by expanding their presence in online and mobile markets, they said.

Another noteworthy trend in the market for baby products is that it is seeing growing spending power among senior consumers. 

According to a recent survey by a daily deals website, sales of baby care products, including diapers and powdered milk, surged the most last year among those in their 60s, followed by customers in their 50s. 

This has led some baby product companies or retailers to closely watch the rise of “urban grannies,” referring to enthusiastic senior consumers purchasing products in a modern way. Some companies have even introduced feeding bottles with numbers printed in larger sizes.

This is not limited to just the traditional players, such as toy and food companies, the market has seen a growing number of newcomers -- such as home appliances and bio companies -- targeting parents whose interests go beyond the basic requirements of feeding and changing diapers.

Coway, a Korean home appliances company, has showcased its latest air purifier that automatically monitors the level of fine dust in the room and transmits the information to users’ smartphones in real time. The smart detect system was devised especially for parents with babies concerned over the impact of worsening dust level in the air to their little ones, the company said.

At the baby fair, many parents showed interest in smaller gadgets, such as nasal aspirators and digital thermometers manufactured by local companies.
 
A crowd of people line up Sunday to enter a baby fair held at Coex in Seoul. (Yonhap)
A crowd of people line up Sunday to enter a baby fair held at Coex in Seoul. (Yonhap)

“I have come here not only for toy products, but to experience smart gadgets devised for easier baby care,” said Cho Young-eun, a 38-year-old mom with a 2-year-old daughter.

Bio companies have also been expanding marketing efforts in light of growing health consciousness. 

Local companies like Medipost and Boryung Medience offered services at discounted prices at the fair in a bid to lure parents to invest in their babies’ future health. Both firms operate cord blood banks that store blood cells collected at birth. Cord blood can be used to treat various incurable diseases, including leukemia, later on if needed, the companies said.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)
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