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Market Overview

Executive Summary

South Korea has the 10th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $1.7 trillion and a per capita GNI of $35,000 in 2021. It is about the size of Indiana and as a population of 51.7 million. Over 80 percent of Koreans live in urban areas. Domestic production meets only 46 percent of food demand. The United States exported $10.2 billion in agricultural products to Korea in 2021, making it our fifth largest export market. The U.S. supplies a quarter of Korea's agricultural imports.

Imports of Consumer-Oriented Products

Korea imported $17.3 billion in consumer-oriented products in 2021, accounting for 40 percent of agricultural imports. There are still many opportunities for U.S. export growth in this segment, including for beef, pork, fruits, tree nuts, dairy products, confectioneries, beverages, and further prepared foods

Food Processing Industry

Korea had over 30,000 food processing companies as of 2020, generating $56.0 billion in sales. Korean food processing companies rely heavily on imported commodities and ingredients. Imports of basic and intermediate agricultural products totaled $17 billion in 2021. Twenty one percent ($3.5 billion) of these imports came from the United States.

Food Retail Industry

Korean retail food sales totaled $106 billion in 2021, accounting for 28 percent of total retail sales (excluding automobiles.) Grocery supermarkets are the leading food retail channel, followed by hypermarket discount stores, convenience stores, on-line retailers, and department stores. On-line retailers and convenience store food sales are expected to grow faster than other channels over the next 5-10 years. The fast expansion of on-line retailers is forcing conventional retail channels to restructure space and devise new strategies to attract consumer traffic.

Quick Facts CY 2021

Imports of Ag. Products from the World

  • Basic Products US$6.8 billion
  • Intermediate Products US$10.2 billion
  • Consumer-Oriented Products US$17.3 billion
  • Forest Products US$3.5 billion
  • Seafood Products US$5.7 billion
  • Total US$43.5 billion

Top 10 Consumer-Oriented Ag. Imports from the World

Beef ($3.5B), Food Preparations ($2.2B), Pork ($1.7B), Alcoholic Bev $1.3B), Coffee ($916M), Cheese and Curd ($685M), Preserved Fruits, Nuts ($412M), Bakeries ($390M), Chocolates ($357M), Preserved Vegetables ($354M)

Top 10 Growth Consumer-Oriented Ag. Imports

Eggs, buttermilk & yogurt, vegetables under HS0703, wine, butter, cider, beef, vinegar, coconuts, mineral water

Food Industry by Channels

  • Retail Food Industry US$106.0 billion (2021)
  • HRI Foodservice Industry US$121.3 billion (2019)
  • Food Processing Industry US$65.6 billion (2020)
  • Food & Agricultural Exports US$7.6 billion (2020)

Top Korean Retailers

EMART, LOTTE Mart, HOME PLUS, COSTCO, GS Retail (GS Super, GS25), BGF Retail (CU), Korea Seven, E Land Retail, Lotte Department Store, Shinsegae Department Store, Hyundai Department Store, Hanwha Galleria, CJ O Shopping, GS Home Shopping, SK Planet, Ebay Korea, Coupang

GDP/Population

Population: 51.8 million
GDP: US $1.6 trillion
GDP per capita: US$ 31,631

Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/ Challenges

Strengths Weaknesses
Well established market with modern distribution channels High logistics costs to ship American products
Consumer income level continues to increase Consumers have limited understanding of American products
Opportunities Challenges
Strong consumer demand for value, quality, and diversity Elevated competition from export-oriented competitors
KORUS FTA reduces tariff barriers for American products. Discrepancies in food safety and labeling regulations

Data and Information Sources:
Korea Ministry of Food & Drug Safety, Korea National Statistics Office, Korea Int'l Trade Association, Global Trade Atlas, CIA Factbook. To the greatest extent possible, the latest available statistics are used in this publication.

Contact: U.S. Agricultural Trade Office(ATO) Seoul
E-mail: atoseoul@fas.usda.gov

For more detailed information about the Korean market see the Exporter Guide 2021.

Agricultural Trade Office, U.S. Embassy - Seoul
Tel: 82-2-6951-6848 Fax: 82-2-720-7921
Email: atoseoul@state.gov