Fried chicken market anything but small in Korea

By Won Ho-jung
  • Published : May 27, 2016 - 16:36
  • Updated : Jun 11, 2016 - 14:00

 Fried chicken has found a firm place in present-day Korean cuisine, despite being commonly considered a creation from the United States.

Among other things, it is a staple as a midnight snack for Koreans and the food of choice at baseball stadiums, for get-togethers along the river and for those entertaining guests at home.

Despite the saturated market, the fried chicken industry remains strong and is still growing, with technology allowing for efficient deliveries and continuously evolving recipes

According to Statistics Korea and a research by the KB Financial Group Economic Research Institute, the number of chicken restaurants here increased by 9.5 percent annually to reach nearly 5 trillion won ($4.2 billion) last year. There are more than 40,000 fried chicken stores in Korea -- exceeding the number of McDonald’s stores worldwide.

For now, the most common fried chicken recognized internationally as being Korean-style is “yangnyeom,” or seasoned chicken. Recipes on international websites describe this style of chicken as being deep fried, with a “crispy” or “crackly” texture. It is covered in a sweet and spicy sauce infused with Korean basics: soy sauce, gochujang (red chili paste), garlic, ginger and sesame oil.

In the 1970s, basic deep-fried whole chicken, or “tongdak,” was common here. There was a shift in the 1980s and 1980s when American-style deep-fried wings and drumsticks grew popular. The chicken market began to further diversity in the 2000s. 

Volcano Mozzarella Cheese Chicken from Goobne (Goobne Chicken)

To attract consumers and cater to the Korean palate, fried chicken flavored with savory soy sauces became a huge hit in the early 2000s. This was followed by a boom in fried chicken topped with shredded green onions to lessen the greasy taste in the latter half of the decade.

As the health-conscious movement picked up steam in Korea, franchises sought new ways to reconcile this with deep-fried chicken. The answer came in the form of baked chicken, which has seen a recent boom in franchises.

These days, there is a dizzying array of baked and fried chicken choices, with sauces ranging from garlic to honey and toppings that include vegetables and cheese.

Mara Hot Chicken from BBQ (Genesis BBQ)

The relative ease with which entrepreneurs can open a franchise and the continuing popularity of chicken has led to this explosion of choices, but the business is not all rosy.

The idea that fried chicken was the start-up business of choice took hold after the 1997 financial crisis, when many businessmen who were out of a job looked for an industry with low-entry barriers.

A saying even emerged in Korea: “The end of every career is at a fried chicken store.”

Oversupply inevitably led to a high turnover rate as well and this continues today. According to 2014 data released by the Seoul Metropolitan Government at the beginning of this year, 38 percent of new fried chicken stores closed down within three years – the highest rate of all store types.

To increase market share and to keep stores open, most large chicken brands now hold regular introductory seminars for potential franchisers. Genesis BBQ, Korea’s largest fried chicken brand, even established a “Chicken University” modeled after McDonald’s Hamburger University.

The campus houses the brand’s R&D labs as well as classes for those who are looking to open a BBQ franchise store and those who already run a franchise.

With no shortage of such support services, plenty of businessmen looking for a retirement plan and chimaek’s summer peak season around the corner, the fried chicken industry shows no signs of slowing down.

By Won Ho-jung (