The country’s second-largest national holiday is less than a week away, but the mood in the retail industry this year is less upbeat than before, with consumers conscious of the anti-bribery law that soon takes effect.
Before the so-called “Kim Young-ran Law” was ruled constitutional in July, sending a box of Korean beef or dried yellow croaker fish as a gift was often a way of expressing gratitude to acquaintances during the Chuseok holiday.
However, the new anti-graft law bans gifts of over 50,000 won ($45) to public servants, private school employees, journalists and related parties. Although it is slated to go into effect from Sept. 28, many people are already cautious about sending gifts.
In response, retailers have come up with a greater variety of gift sets, providing consumers with many choices that are “legally possible.”
Chuseok is one of the peak seasons at department stores and has an impact on their annual sales. This year, they are promoting lineups of gifts under 50,000 won.
Galleria Department Store is introducing “Small Gift Sets” priced between 20,000 won and 50,000 won, featuring flagship items of well-known restaurants and bakeries.
LeTAO Korea is offering cheesecake sets for Chuseok at 38,000 won at Galleria. The cheesecake from Hokkaido has the nickname “selling in 10 seconds.” Patgodang, a bakery famous for red bean bread, is offering a 33,000 won set consisting of a combination of its signature baked goods at the department store. Samjin Eomuk from Busan is offering a 25,000 won set made up of its representative fish cakes.
Byeokje Galbi, a high-end beef restaurant chain, is promoting lunchboxes featuring its popular beef dishes at 39,000 won and 49,000 won at the department store.
“We have expanded the range of gift sets under 50,000 won by 15 percent compared to the previous year in accordance with rising demand,” said Park Bo-young, a food and beverage manager at the department store. “The gift sets are affordable but contain hit items of the popular restaurants, attracting positive response from consumers.”
Lotte Department Store also increased by more than 30 percent this year its volume of gift sets priced within the legal limit.
The country’s largest retailer has introduced high-end tea bag sets as major Chuseok gift sets, calling them “practical but premium.”
A package of dandelion tea, rooibos tea and hovenia dulcis tea is being offered at 47,000 won, while a jujube tea set is selling at 30,000 won.
It was not easy to create meat or seafood packages under 100,000 won, but the department store came up with small beef and fish sets. It offers 1.1 kilograms of dried yellow croaker fish from Jejudo at 95,000 won and 1.5 kilograms of Korean beef and bones at 90,000 won.
“The preference for practical presents at reasonable prices is getting stronger year after year,” said Nam Ki-dae, head of the food division at Lotte.
Hyundai Department Store is offering fruit sets priced under 50,000 won.
“Despite 15 to 20 percent increases in the prices of popular fruits due to an unusual heatwave this summer, we have secured sufficient supply and are able to offer affordable gift sets,” a company spokesman said. “We plan to increase the supply of fruit sets under 50,000 won by 30 percent this year.”
A set of four apples and one pear is being sold at 45,000 won, while a package of 20 gold kiwis is selling at 48,000 won.
A set of five grains -- including unpolished rice, chick pea and linseed -- offered at 45,000 won is proving popular. A combination of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar priced at 48,000 won is also recommended by the department store as a trendy gift.
At Shinsegae Department Store, extravagant wrappings have been scrapped to bring down prices.
“Sales of modestly wrapped gift sets rose significantly last year in line with the growing number of one-person households, and we believe preference for such simply wrapped, smaller sets will continue this year,” said a PR manager at Shinsegae.
A 1-kilogram anchovy package, a popular Chuseok food gift item, and a set of five kinds of natural condiments are being offered at 50,000 won at the department store.
“Pre-sale orders of gift sets less than 50,000 won soared by double-digit numbers in August compared to a less than 10 percent growth in the sales of typical beef and fisheries products,” said the PR officer.
However, there is still demand for pricier giftsets targeting those not subject to the anti-bribery law.
“While some go with the under 50,000 won trend, there are consumers who still want premium sets,” said the Hyundai spokesman.
While the company ramped up by 20 percent the total supply volume of affordable sets comprising of fruits, processed food and desserts, it also increased the volume of premium products by 10 percent compared to last year.
Premium gifts mostly consist of various parts of Korean beef and seafood such as cutlass fish, abalone, dried yellow croaker fish and tile fish. Prices for premium beef sets start at 150,000 won at Hyundai.
By Song Su-hyun