Region/Countries: Asia, South Korea Industry: Agriculture / Timber, Food and Beverage Date: February 2017

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Demographic and cultural trends have led to increased demand, and companies in the industry are working to come up with healthier options.

In South Korea, the home meal replacement (HMR) market, including shelf-stable, chilled and frozen prepared meals, expanded its popularity throughout 2016. Accordingly, manufacturers are focusing on developing diverse and high-quality prepared meals that excel in both taste and convenience. According to a report from the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI), total HMR sales in South Korea increased by almost 62 percent in 2013. Furthermore, the declining in birthrate, demanding jobs, and an increase in late marriage and one-person households have propelled the growth of the HMR market in South Korea. By introducing a diverse meal selection of high-quality products, the HMR industry has been able to expand its distribution channels to hypermarkets, convenience stores and department stores.

The strong popularity of frozen prepared meals, especially frozen fried rice with vegetables, has prompted major local convenience stores such as GS25 and CU to introduce private-label lunch box products and work in collaboration with famous chiefs and celebrities to promote rice-based prepared meal lines. However, many of these products are high in calories and lack quality ingredients. Currently, gluten-free, low-sodium and restricted-fat options remain rare in the South Korean HMR industry. The KREI report notes that companies in markets such as the U.S. and the UK are striving to develop more health-conscious HMR products.

Despite the lack of nutritious HMR product options, South Korea’s HMR market has grown to $1.7 billion, making South Korea’s market equivalent in size to that of the U.S. based on recent growth and market demand, according to Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), in 2014. Due to the expansion and growth of the HMR market, the MFDS recategorized the HMR industry into three groups in 2014: 1) ready-to-eat, 2) ready-to-heat and 3) ready-to-cook.

As South Korea’s HMR market grows further, Wisconsin companies can contribute as South Korean food companies work to increase the value and quality of their products.