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Title Potential of Korean Food Established at ‘World Food Istanbul’
No 54 Inquiry 269 Date 2017.09.20

At ‘World Food Istanbul 2017’, one of the five largest expositions in the world in terms of size, Korean Pavilion opened and welcomed visitors. Supported by the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT), a total of 16 Korean food companies participated in the fair, which was held for four days from September 7 to 10. They presented a variety of products including sauce and seasoning, red ginseng, dried laver, aloe vera, sun-dried salt, and yoghurt snacks.

 

 

<The Korean Pavilion at World Food Istanbul 2017. / Photo courtesy of the correspondent (up) and World Food Istanbul (down)>

 

Among 21 participating countries, only Korea set up a separate exhibition booth, which was designed in a unique form reminiscent of a hanok (Korean traditional house), catching the eyes of visitors who entered the exposition hall. aT made efforts to weaken the prejudice against Korean food among Middle Eastern buyers by selecting products using ingredients that are highly popular in Korea but have a low recognition overseas, and are taste inviting and easy to eat (e.g. red ginseng slices and dried-laver snacks) for tasting events.

 

As companies participated in the fair hoping to pioneer markets in Middle Eastern countries starting from Turkey, they were especially interested in the interaction with Middle Easterners, who took up the majority of the total visitors. Buyers from Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan visited the fair searching for new business items, and they were confident that Korean products would draw good response in the local markets aided by rise in the recognition of Korea thanks to high popularity of the country's TV drama series.

 

However, the biggest obstacle is, above all, Halal. Halal certification is the most important requirement for importing food in Turkey. Halal certification is not mandatory under custom laws, but products that are not Halal certified are likely to be shunned by consumers. An official of a manufacturer and distributor of various sauce and seasoning products including mayonnaise, chili sauce, and red pepper paste, who participated in the event, said, “There were quite a few buyers who seriously wanted to import our products. Most of them were satisfied by the products and confident with their marketability after tasting them. Nevertheless, everyone put emphasis on Halal certification. Although I have already heard about the importance of considering Halal, now I understand more clearly how sensitive they are to this matter, seeing their response here in the local markets.”

 

  

<Korean food companies providing consultation to buyers. / Photo courtesy of the correspondent>

 

There is another hurdle to overcome to enter the Turkish market. It is a thorough exclusion of GMO foods. A Korean immigrant who visited the fair stressed that Korean companies should exclude GMOs if they want to export food to Turkey. If Korean companies can overcome these two barriers, the prospect of exporting Korean food products to Turkey is bright.

 

The items that caught the eyes of most visitors were dried-laver snacks, mushroom pickles, and ice cream with puffed rice. Laver is a food that is not consumed in Turkey at all, and it is considered strange or even disgusting to eat seaweeds to Turkish people who do not eat seafood at all, except for some fish. However, laver that has been favored in Korea and other East Asian countries for long time, is a valuable food in nutrition that does not deserve such a reaction. The dried-laver snack that were introduced at the fair had no flavor or texture unique to laver but boast crunchy and crispy mouthfeel like snacks, which made it well-received by the visitors. Some of them were amazed to find out that it was laver that they had just tasted.

 

Mushrooms are also rarely eaten in Turkey, and there are only two types of mushrooms, button mushrooms or oysters mushrooms, in hypermarkets. However, the visitors showed great interest in various kinds of mushroom pickles which were new to them. This was because they were similar to tursu (vegetable pickles) that are often served with meat dishes in Turkey. Visitors who tasted mushroom pickles with half curiosity and half hesitation seemed to be attracted to them, which had a sweet and soft texture with a tangy taste. Some visitors asked if they could buy them on the spot.

 

A company that have developed snacks for children using yoghurt, which is very common in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, including Turkey, but has not yet developed into various kinds of products, also received favorable responses. When a company staff explained that the snacks are made of yoghurt to visitors' question about the ingredients, they all looked very satisfied. A buyer who showed interest in the yogurt snacks gave the following opinion.


“Because yogurt is a 100% livestock product, it is very difficult to export yoghurt products produced in Korea to the region. If you have a manufacturer in the local market to produce the products, this will not only solve the problems of short expiration dates or spoilage, but also reduce costs and lessen the burden of halal certification. So, it will be more effective to advance into the Middle Eastern markets through technology or brand alliances.”

 

The most popular food in the fair venue was cane ice cream. It was also amazing to see this stick-shaped snack made of corn being made in and directly coming out of the machine, and the idea to fill it with ice cream was just brilliant. Almost everyone in the exposition hall was holding the cane ice cream. In the case of the puffed rice snack that was introduced together with cane ice cream, locals who tasted it gave an idea to serve it with hot pepper sauce that they enjoy in Turkey. They improvised a fusion dessert named “Korean snack + Turkish spread” on the spot and introduced it to other visitors.

 

 
<The booth of the puffed rice snack manufacturer and locals who are tasting the snacks. / Photo courtesy of the correspondent.>

 

On weekends, fans of Hallyu and Korean food enthusiasts from Istanbul visited the Korean Pavilion in group and said hello in Korean to staffs, while those who had lived in Korea bought displayed products on the last day of the fair saying they miss Korean food. Among the visitors, there were also a number of Turkish families who are Hallyu fans. Although the fair was held at the outskirts of Istanbul and it was not easy to get to the venue from the downtown, the fair was filled with many visitors for the entire four days. The Korean Pavilion, which was the only national booth, was also crowded with numerous visitors, attracting great attention. As there were many visitors who expressed their wish to buy the Korean products introduced at the fair at local markets and shops in Turkey, I hope that Turkish consumers will be able to meet more Korean foods every year.

 

<Turkish Hallyu fans who visited the fair on the weekend./ Photo courtesy of the correspondent.>

 

* Mina Eom, Correspondent of KOFICE in Turkey