Korean food firms race to build amid global K-food craze

Exports of spicy ramen noodles rose 36% in the first five months of 2024 (Stephen Bedase/Unsplash)

South Korean food companies are racing to invest in production facilities to meet growing worldwide demand for its national flavours.

The Korea Economic Daily reports that the demand for ‘K-food’ is being led by dried instant noodles, which can be turned into ramen soup by adding hot water.

Nongshim, South Korea’s largest ramen-maker, will spend $166m on a warehouse and distribution centre in Ulsan by October 2027.

It’s also considering building a noodle factory, its first new domestic plant in 17 years.

In February, Samyang Foods, Nongshim’s main rival, broke ground on a factory in Miryang City, the second of its kind in two years.

This expansion is being led by worldwide demand for its hot chicken flavour ramen.

According to economic agency Invest Korea, the country’s food industry has grown at an average of 8% between 2018 and 2021, reaching $470bn in 2021. It comments that the growth is being driven by K-food’s emergence as “hip food culture content around the world”.

Ramen noodles in vogue

In the past, Korean food was associated with fermented cabbage – kimchi – and the spicy rice cakes known as tteokbokki.

Now, spicy ramen noodles are the craze. Exports rose 36% in the first five months of the year, compared with 2023. 

Beyond noodles, Korea’s snacks have also gained recognition.

One of the main producers, Lotte Wellfood, announced in March that it would invest $160m in its factory in Pyeongtaek.

Its rival, Orion Corporation, is planning to build a snack and confectionary complex that brings manufacturing, packaging and logistics under a single roof.

Work is already underway on a potato flake factory in Shenyang, China.

The company is also preparing to build a new factory in Hanoi, which would be its third in the capital city of Vietnam. It has recently purchased land for a fourth plant in the city.

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