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South Korean instant noodle exports hit record high

Efforts behind recent rise in popularity date back decades

Packaged instant noodle products are stacked up at a discount store in Seoul on Monday. Customs data shows exports of Korean ramen rose to an all-time high in the first half of the year. (Yonhap)
Packaged instant noodle products are stacked up at a discount store in Seoul on Monday. Customs data shows exports of Korean ramen rose to an all-time high in the first half of the year. (Yonhap)
In a sign of growing popularity, revenue from South Korean instant noodle exports reached a record high of 368.7 billion won ($319 million) during the first half of this year, according to data from the Korea Customs Service.

The figure broke the previous record of $302.8 million set the same time one year ago and was up 5.8 percent.

When broken down by country, China was the largest importer of South Korean instant noodles where $68.13 million worth was sold.

The US was the second-largest market with $37.3 million followed by Japan and Taiwan where the products racked up $33 million and $16.2 million in export revenue, respectively.

“There are multiple factors. Nongshim, for instance, entered the US market in the 70s and China in the 80s which means the company had more time for people to be familiar with them,” said one industry official who declined to be named.

Last year, South Korean food and beverage company Nongshim raked in 2 trillion won in instant ramen sales boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the “jjapaguri” dish featured in the Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”

Nongshim America, its US unit, posted 250.2 billion won in ramen sales in 2020, up 26.5 percent while its Chinese unit logged 218.3 billion won, up 28.2 percent from the previous year.

But without decades of efforts, the company might not have capitalized on the marketing opportunity.

“Even if Jjapaguri had suddenly gained popularity, if it had not been available locally, the buzz would have soon faded away. But because those products were available at supermarkets for everyone to buy, I think it led to purchasing them and raising brand awareness, prompting people to try other brands,” the official said.

Samyang Foods, another instant noodle-maker famous for Buldak Spicy Chicken Noodle, saw its overseas revenue rise 35.8 percent on-year to 370.3 billion won, accounting for 57 percent of total sales in 2020.

Buoyed by the fire noodle challenge on YouTube, Buldak, which is being sold in 85 countries, saw its export revenue rise from 10 billion won in 2015 to 300 billion in 2020, according to the company,

It is worth noting, however, that export growth rates for South Korean instant noodles suffered a drop in the first half of this year compared to last year’s 37.4 percent jump.

South Korea’s instant noodle imports stood at $4.69 million during the first six months, data showed.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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