A woman came to buy farm produce at a Korean supermarket in LA, California, late afternoon on April 18 for weekend treat for her family. She said she came to buy mushrooms, laver and oysters. "I come here about twice a month to buy Korean farm produce and cook Korean food at home," she said. Kim Byeong-joon, a director at the supermarket, said, "An increasing number of local people are buying Korean agricultural products."
The U.S. is the world`s biggest exporter and importer of food. Korea`s agricultural products still account for less than 10 percent of the U.S.`s total imports of agricultural products, but potential is growing. This is due to steady growth of exports and American people`s growing interest in Korean food. Agricultural goods exports stood at 600 million U.S. dollars in 2011, which increased to 664 million dollars in 2012 and to 740 million dollars last year.
Korean agricultural products are making inroads into the world`s largest market, with various export strategies.
○ A step-by-step strategy for multi-ethnic society
LA is the biggest Korean community in the U.S. Among some 2.18 million Koreans living in the U.S., one-fourth, or 500,000 people, live in LA, and the state of California shows the highest ratio of non-White people to white people in the U.S. This is why people call California "the salad bowl."
Multi races are both an opportunity and risk. If Korean businesses target Chinese people who share similar food culture with Korea or Hispanics who are familiar with spicy food, they can make presence in supermarkets crowded by white people or a more higher-end store such as Whole Foods Market. Lee Won-ki, president of LA office of Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp., said, "Good response in the West can help Korean businesses enter the whole U.S. region and further to the South American market."
There is also risk, however. Businesses can be satisfied in the Korean community rather than challenging a broader market. In Fullerton, California where many Koreans live, there are three large Korean supermarkets in the same neighborhood. This means many businesses opt to focus on areas where demand is guaranteed rather than exploring new markets.
○ Create unique advantages
The U.S. mass produces many farm products and imports various products from all over the world. Thus, exceptionally high quality products or differentiated advantages are necessary to opening up the U.S. market.
The successful entry of Korean pears and laver deserve merit in this regard. In particular, Korean pears have high competitive edge since its chewy texture compares with the pears grown in U.S. soil, which have less water and thus are dry. Paul Shin, director at Mugung International that imports Korean farm goods for sale in the U.S., said, After importing 550 tons of Korean pear in 2012, we increased the import volume to 1,200 tons last year. We plan to bring in more than 2,000 tons of pears this year."
Laver succeeded with differentiated marketing strategy. While Koreans eat laver as side dish, this food was introduced in the U.S. as a dietary cookie by lowering salinity and adding crispy taste. Laver became a popular food in the U.S. after many Hollywood stars said they liked it. Thanks to such efforts, laver gained a space at Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe`s and is expecting annual sales of 100 million dollars soon.
Shin Jae-keun, senior manager at the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation`s LA office, said, "Bringing in Korean agricultural products without distinct differentiation strategy can lead to failure."