Food for Thought: Marketing the next superfood: Korean??? by Lindsey Huster

At the world table of jaded appetites- foodie devotees of Japanese, Thai, and Chinese comestibles- numerable incipients have yet to taste Korean cuisine. Others stand on the outskirts of the table, asserting the “been-there, done-that” axiom of one-timer of Korean consumption. Regardless, the problem still persists: while there are approximately 40,000 Japanese restaurants worldwide, a mere 10,000 Korean restaurants subsist outside this country.

In efforts to winkle Korea out of the backdrop of food and into a cuisinal limelight, marketing crusades have grown out of a caprice to spread the word about Hansik , or traditional Korean food.. Some are good, some are bad, and some may cause more harm than good. Either way, the inherent goal for Korea is to become a distinguishable food entity from Japan, China or any other Asian countries.

Looking back to the full-page bibimbap advertisement in The New York Times last December, it is difficult to be optimistic when it comes to some aggressive strategies towards culture and food appreciation. Paid and handled by the MBC reality TV show “Infinite Challenge”- the advertisement certainly grabbed reader’s attention, but in an undesirable way. Although the ad colorfully displayed a tasteful depiction of bibimbap, the text was an eye-sore that ran a muck with malapropisms and rampant Konglish (Korean English).

Thankfully, the latest salient campaign proffered by the Korean Tourist Organization offers a Korean food sans the Konglish (but maybe with an unnecessary amount of capital letters). The campaign, amorously entitled, “I Love Korean Food,” aims to educate and pullulate food enthusiasm of Korean eats for our ocean neighbors of Australia. The viewer merely has to hover their mouse over the picture of Korean dinnerware for a few moments to procure the name of the dish; three dish names must be submitted in order to be considered for the contest. The winner will receive two roundtrip airfares to Korea, hotel accommodations for three nights and most importantly, a fine Korean dining experience in Seoul.

In this case, the crusade towards Korean food is appreciated. The web site offers links to other Korean restaurants in the cities; although only a handful, it offers proof of the possibility of growth of Korean food in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. However, the contest aims at such a small niche that it is dubious that it will have a long-term impact on the Australian food industry. In addition to Korean restaurant links, there should be supplemented food facts and trivia that assist a hopeful-eater’s interest, and informs the reader on the health aspect of Korean food.

The fact that Korean food is not only tasty but extremely healthy remains the key to popularizing Korean food. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2009, South Korea showed the lowest obesity rate among the countries in OECD, even lower than that of Japan. Additionally, foods like kimchi, a staple of a Korean diet, are thought to be one of the healthiest foods in the world.

One food movement that is focusing on that health aspect is “Global Hansik.” The program, under the wing of the Ministry of Food, wants to create a 50 billion fund to open Korean cooking classes to culinary schools, including France’s Le Courdon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America. Through the program, the government also hopes to promote the health benefits of Korean food, ultimately increasing the number of restaurants to 40,000 by 2017. Unfortunately, the movement has been already criticized for a lack of organization and knowledge provided on web sites. If the movement proves as lucrative as other countries who have government-inspired food notoriety (namely in Japan and Thailand), Korean food could be transformed into a recognizable and desired dish outside of Korea.

Although it may take another three years to create the funding necessary for some of the major movements of Global Hansik, smaller steps can be taken now to create the ultimate buzz around Korean food. An idea would be to find a spokesperson that vouches for Korean food. The obvious choice for a Korea spokesperson is Kim Yu-Na. According to the Korea Times, Kim Yu-Na has become the first female figure skater to achieve the “grand slam,” winning the World Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships, World Championships and the Winter Olympics. She is not only a celebrity in Korea, but has also gained worldwide notoriety as an athlete and an appealing icon. Already, Queen Kim has endorsed Hyundai Motor, Samsung Electronics, Maeil Dairy, Tous Les Jours, CJ Group, and jewelry maker J.Estina in her local land, so why not endorse Korean food for a worldwide audience?

Korea is on the cusp of food greatness. If Global Hansik or the KTO campaign prove marginally fruitful, Korea can begin to gain the attention it deserves for its notable cuisine. With the right advertising and spokespeople, Korea can become the next superfood. 

Lindsey Huster a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. 

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  • beatnix

    China has a long history of promoting their food in America going all the way back to the gold rush days.
    Thai and Vietnamese foods on the other hand has a taste the western palate can easily relate to (thanks to the herbs and cooking techniques influenced by France and China).
    I remember growing up in the 70's and 80's. The sushi (eating bait) jokes people muttered when Japanese cuisine was discussed. It was a slow growth for the American palate to accept.
    Korean cuisine on the other hand is hard for the uninitiated to get into. Compared to Japanes cuisine the taste is bold and fiery. Compared to Chinese or Thai/Viet cuisines the food is not very approachable. I remember watching a Jennifer Aniston movie several years back when she and her boyfriend are eating kalbi wrapped in lettuce, immediately throwing it up afterwords… That about sums up the cuisine to most of the westerners.
    The taste is too foreign to them, not to mention the price being too high.
    The Korean government should just let the cuisine grow slowly and naturally. whenever the Korean government gets involved in promotion (hallyu, tourism, or technology) it always seems to backfire…

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