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White chicken meat enjoys heyday on wellness boom in Korea

Demand, sales of chicken breasts soar, upping competition among food, home meal replacement companies

Chicken breast products by Rankingdakcom (Rankingdakcom)
Chicken breast products by Rankingdakcom (Rankingdakcom)

There is no doubt that chicken is one of the most-favored meats around the world, but the favorite parts of the meat may vary across cultures. In South Korea, white chicken breast is often less in demand the softer and juicier dark meat of thighs and wings.

But in recent years, chicken breast has been experiencing a heyday here, as more people are looking for a healthier protein choice with less fat.

Along with increased attention on wellness, the growing dumbbell economy here has also shed light on white chicken meat as the best source of protein for building muscle.

According to Euromonitor, a global market research firm, sales of processed chicken meat have shown a steady growth trend in Korea in the past years. Sales of cold storage chicken meat products rose from 7 billion won ($5.71 million) in 2014 to 42.5 billion won in 2018.

The burgeoning industry is expected to grow further, and the research firm forecast the sales for cold storage chicken to reach 81.6 billion won in 2024.

The consumption pattern has changed here for chicken meat, according to the industry.

“Before, chicken was largely consumed as whole (birds). In the recent years, the trend has changed and more consumers are buying parts of the meat they want,“ an official from Harim, the country’s leading chicken meat producer, told The Korea Herald. 

For softer, tastier chicken breasts

Meeting the increasing demand, hundreds of brands that specialize in chicken breasts have popped up in Korea in the past several years, and the tug-of-war among the companies to get a bigger market share has led to a larger variety of choices for the consumers.

According to Rankingdakcom, an e-commerce platform specializing in chicken breast products, there were 233 brands registered as sellers here as of December 2019.

These products break away from the conventional frozen lumps of raw chicken breasts or canned meat, and come in diverse options and handy packaging: grilled steak, sausage balls stuffed with melted cheese or mashed sweet potatoes, or in the form of hot dogs with the bun made of protein powder.

Chicken breast products by Harim (Harim)
Chicken breast products by Harim (Harim)

Lee Young-eun, 32, carries with her two individually packaged chicken breasts, each weighing 100 grams, for two of her daily meals.

“I started weightlifting and am giving extra attention to my diet to lose weight. A chicken breast is a lump of protein concentrate itself, which is crucial for muscle building,” Lee, an office worker in Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

“There are chicken breast products cooked in so many different ways and with different tastes, I have them every day, without getting tired of them”

Holding the bag of chicken breast flavored in carbonara sauce, Lee stressed how convenient it is as a meal, as she only needs to microwave the bag.

Companies are using various methods and technologies to ensure softer textures of the meat.

Harim, for instance, said it refrigerates the chicken breast for eight hours for a “ripened” taste with more a moisturized texture, and also applies the “Individual Fresh Frozen” method to quickly freeze meat at minus 35 degrees Celsius.

Rosy outlook

Last year, Harim launched chicken breast-only brand “Harim e dak,” selling 6.2 million bags of its cold storage, cooked chicken breast products, including sausages and seasoned steak, within the first year.

For this year, the company said it expects sales volume to go up to about 15 million products, a 140 percent increase from last year.

The strong showing of chicken companies also comes hand-in-hand with the popularity of home meal replacement products, industry officials say. 

A chicken breast dish (123rf)
A chicken breast dish (123rf)

Rankingdakcom operator Foodnamoo has its own chicken breast brand, Masitdak, among others. In the coming months, the brand expects to break a record of accumulated sales of 100 million packs, the company said.

“Chicken breast is positioned as more than just a source of protein. It is now rising as a healthy HMR item,” a Foodnamoo official said.

Indeed, the boost in sales of chicken breast parallels an increase in sales of HMR products in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Market Kurly, an ecommerce platform said sales of chicken breast products have more than tripled in March and April compared to a year earlier.

SSG also said it witnessed sales of chicken breasts go up by 80 percent in the same period.

Companies are expanding their sales channels accordingly.

Heodak, a chicken breast manufacturer, reported its annual sales surpassed 10 million packages in 2019, recording its highest profit since launching in December 2010. Heodak recently acquired an investment fund from early-stage-focused venture capital firm Kakao Ventures for business expansion.

Foodnamoo joined the second-tier stock market in 2018, with the goal of tapping into overseas markets, the company said. Immediately after the Kosdaq listing, the company entered the Hong Kong market in November 2018, and has also rolled out products in Mongolia, Vietnam and New Zealand.

Foodnamoo has also agreed to establish a joint venture with Wingyip-food, a Kosdaq-listed company to manufacture chicken breast products and sell them in China.

“Chicken breast products in other countries, like the US and China, are largely limited to plain or smoked chicken breasts,” a Foodnamoo official said.

“Korean products have competitiveness with the different flavors.”

By Jo He-rim (