Kim Min-ho, director of Korea Agro-Trade Center, Paris
In August, a Korean food section opened in Paris’ finer-goods department store Bon Marche’s La Grande Epicerie de Paris food corner. Some 40 Korean food products were introduced in the new section, targeting the upper echelons and Michelin-starred chefs of Paris. It has been 20 years since the last time a country-specific groceries area was featured in Bon Marche.
The launch of Korean food in a foreign country none other than France, famous for its epicurean cuisine culture, comes on the back of increasing overseas interest in Korean pop culture.
K-pop has a solid fan base among French young people, and the movie “Parasite” by director Bong Joon-ho boasts over 1 million tickets sold in France after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. There are over 150 Korean restaurants in the French capital city alone, where over 70 percent of the visitors are reportedly local Parisians. Korean writing system Hangeul and traditional attire hanbok are also garnering attention in Europe.
Reflective of this trend of rising demand for Korean cultural products, folk cultural events that previously took place for overseas-residing Koreans are now inviting local Europeans. In 2018, when the Paris branch of the Korea Agro-Trade Center opened “K-Food Fair Paris,” a long line of people stretched to experience Korean snacks, write their names in Hangeul and dress up in hanbok. More than 90 percent of those who took part were French.
K-pop also played a role for the Korean food section at Bon Marche’s La Grande Epicerie. Global K-pop sensation BTS performed in Paris on Dec. 19 in 2018, just a few days before Europe’s biggest food expo Salon International de l’Alimentation in the city.
The Korea Agro-Trade Center, Paris (aT Paris) took this concert as an opportunity to provide Korean cuisine cooked with the ingredients to be exhibited at SIAL 2018 to those in the VIP lounge. This served as a critical exposure of Korean groceries to the representative French buyers from food distributors such as Intermarche, Monoprix and Bon Marche.
These VIP buyers, most of them middle-aged, were reportedly surprised to see over 20,000 French young people singing along to Korean pop songs. Korean food, as they saw from the BTS concert, could serve as a means to deter young consumers’ migration to online shopping. The idea for Bon Marche’s K-food section could be said to have hatched here.
In Europe, where there is a strong history of fermented food products such as cheese, Korea’s vegetable-based fermented products kimchi and various condiments are regarded as healthy foods, and are reasons behind hiked interest in K-food.
As of late, it has become more frequent for French broadcasts to run programs that give in-depth information on Korean food’s health benefits. National channel France2 and news channel CNEWS, as well as others, are spotlighting Korea’s fermented food and dining culture. In September, Le Monde newspaper featured Korean seaweed “gim” as a future food, for which the paper had dispatched its reporter to Korea for research.
Despite the evidence of rising demand for Korean food in the advanced agro-food continent of Europe, Korea needs to make further efforts to introduce its culture to the European market, as K-food is still an unfamiliar concept. To this end, the aT Paris branch is continuing to offer Korean food at K-pop concerts and film and food festivals held throughout the city. Online cooking videos and immersive cooking classes on the side to festivals are also in the works to allow festivalgoers to personally experience handling the Korean food ingredients.
Through continued attention and efforts, it is hoped that K-food will enjoy as much love as Korean idols and K-pop have come to receive.
By Kim Min-ho
Director of Korea Agro-Trade Center, Paris