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While much of the world is still struggling with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis, life in Korea seems to have regained some of its calmness and stability. Libraries and cinemas have reopened with strict mask-wearing requirements, and restaurants and cafes are bustling with people on the weekends. The established norm is to wear a mask while out and about, but not when eating or drinking.
As the pandemic subsides, the plant-based market in Korea is beginning to build momentum and showing signs of imminent expansion. However, unlike much of the world where many are making the connection between recurring zoonotic diseases and our current animal agriculture practices, the connection has not become clear to the general public here. The Hana Institute of Finance showed clear evidence of this recently in their research indicating that meat consumption in Korea actually increased by 26% during the month of March when the COVID-19 scare was at its greatest. Meat is still commonly considered a health food in Korea, and many butcher shops continue to hang signs outside that read “eat more meat to boost your immune system during COVID-19!”
Nevertheless, the Korean plant-based market is bubbling with activity, and this time it looks as though permanent changes are in store. For example, Lotte Foods introduced plant-based nuggets and cutlets under its meat alternative brand name enNature Zero Meat last April. After selling almost 60,000 units, they released two new additions to the product line last month.
Another homegrown company, Viomix, has recently entered the plant-based meat arena with eight vegetarian/vegan products under the brand name “Better Than Meat.” Their wide selection ranges from the familiar Vege Chicken Nugget to gourmet, homestyle Vegan Korean BBQ and Vegan Crispy Cutlet. The exciting thing is that these are not obscure, online-only products that only vegan communities know about. These products are being sold in major supermarket chains to a mainstream audience.
Finally, Zikooin Company, who we have written about in a previous article, is preparing to launch two new products. The first is the Unlimeat Patty, which may be their response to Beyond Meat burger patties. Despite what could be described as lackluster marketing efforts by Dongwon F&B, the Beyond Meat burger patties have sold over 60,000 units since their domestic launch last year. It would be interesting to watch how Zikooin Company positions its new plant-based burger patty against the defending champion, Beyond Meat. The second product is the Unlimeat Mince, which upon first glance seems to resemble OmniPork, a versatile plant-based pork product created by Hong-Kong’s Green Monday Group. It’s encouraging to see a pioneering company in Korea’s meat alternative space launching new and exciting products.
And now in news from the dessert world, Lotte Foods’ ice cream brand Natuur launched its first vegan ice cream products in May. Last month, they announced that they’ve already sold more than 60,000 units, a milestone they expected to encounter in a year’s time, not in two months. Again, the success of this ice cream is linked to its accessibility. Unlike online-exclusive products like Zero Scoop, which is arguably Korea’s first plant-based carton ice cream, Natuur’s products can be easily found in most 7-Elevens across the country.
To top off all of these changes at the market level, there has also been a major change at the institutional level. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) announced just last month that it will start piloting a plant-based option at school lunches in select public schools. In addition, SMOE will also roll out an “eco-conversion education program”, educating students on environmental issues such as the food system, climate crisis, pandemics, and fine dust. It is difficult to overstate the impact this will have on future generations and, in turn, on our planet.
It appears as though the stars are finally aligning in Korea to usher in the much-needed shift towards a plant-forward society. See you in the next segment of HAE NEWS, where we update you on the latest in plant-based food in Korea. Until then, Annyeong! 안녕!