South Korea is the fifth largest U.S. market for agricultural products. South Korea is normally a $3-4 billion market for U.S. agricultural, fishery and forestry products. In rough terms, this market breaks out to about 30 percent bulk commodities, 25 percent intermediate goods, 35 percent for high value products.
Changes in Korean lifestyle and dietary culture, along with remarkable development in the socio-economic environment, have resulted in significantly expanded demand for processed food and beverage products. Increasing affluence, more women in the workforce, and a well-traveled younger generation looking for foods with an international flavor are promoting the rise in popularity of convenience stores, bulk retail outlets, and western-style and family restaurants. The demand for products, such as frozen vegetables, sauce preparations, and confectionery items is growing and the domestic processing industry lacks the capability to supply these items. Additionally, given the small availability of land dedicated to farming relative to the total population, local agricultural output currently does not meet the demand of the local processing industry.
When considering the Korean market, U.S. food exporters should conduct preliminary research to determine if the market is appropriate for the product. Possible sources of market information include Korean importers, U.S. state departments of agriculture, the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Seoul and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Lists of Korean importers, by product, can be obtained from the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office, or through the Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. The next step might include sending catalogues, brochures, product samples, and price lists to prospective importers as a way of introducing the company and products.
Once contact is established, it is advisable to visit the importer(s) in person, which will increase the seller's credibility with the Korean importer and give an opportunity to see the Korean market first hand. In Korea the clichés about "seeing is believing" and "one visit is worth a 1,000 e-mails" are especially true. Especially in Korea, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. The supplier or exporter should bring samples as well as product and company brochures including price lists, shipping dates, available quantities, and any other information needed for negotiating a contract. While information in English is acceptable, having it in Korean is helpful. A general overview of the firm in Korean is a good place to start.
The Seoul Food and Hotel 2009 exhibition (Seoul Food Show 2009) presents an excellent opportunity to explore possible market opportunities in Korea. This show is a trade only show and targets importers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, hotels, restaurants, food processors, media, etc.