Tesco rides Psy-driven K-food sales increase

by Philip Gowman on 30 November, 2012

in Business & economy | Food & Drink | In the news | PSY

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, who via Homeplus is also Korea’s second-biggest retailer, has been making cautious, very cautious, steps into selling Korean food in the UK.

The Tesco Taste of Korea promotion in New Malden

The Tesco Taste of Korea promotion in New Malden. Image provided by Homeplus, via JoongAng Ilbo

They marked the launch of the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement last year by stocking some Korean food in one of its UK outlets.

Yes, just one. For one month. And in New Malden, home of the biggest concentration of Koreans in the UK (and consequently of existing Korean food stores).

Opinions varied as to the wisdom of that choice. Customers of that store, if they were interested in Korean food, would likely already have their own favourite Korean supermarket whose custom Tesco would thereby be stealing. And if customers weren’t interested in Korean food they would already have made that decision because if anywhere in the UK people had made that choice it would be in New Malden, where it’s hard to get away from things Korean.

Anyway, the initiative provided a good bit of PR back in Korea, and photographs of British customers gawping at some well-stocked shelves of Korean groceries made it into the Korean papers. The suits must have thought it a good idea, because a year later they repeated the initiative, again in the New Malden branch, for a month during the Olympics period.

Then, at the time of the Thames Festival (early September 2012), there was a story in the Korean press that Tesco were expanding the initiative to more stores. And the story was confirmed by staff at the CJ Food / Bibigo stall at the Festival, who were involved in providing some of the stock. They confirmed to me that their groceries were to be stocked at a dozen or so Tesco stores around the country, including Croydon, Watford and elsewhere – but nowhere in Central London. I queried why Tesco wouldn’t want to test the market in Central London, but the staff couldn’t answer that one.

So I contacted Tesco’s UK press office to see what the plans were. They knew nothing at all about the initiative, and directed me to an out-of-date press release issued by the British Embassy in Seoul which related to the one-month Olympic promotion in New Malden.

So you can see that K-food was a bit under the radar for them.

But now, courtesy of Psy, interest in K-food is increasing, according to The Sun. The UK’s biggest tabloid reports that K-food sales at Tesco are booming, albeit from a very low base.

POP star Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance craze has sent demand for Korean food soaring in supermarkets. Bosses at Tesco launched a range of 150 food products from Korea last month — including Chum Churum Soju drinks, Bulgogi sauce and Katsuobushi Udon noodles. They claim sales have more than DOUBLED since the launch, helped by Psy’s massive hit.

But Jinro-Hite must be pretty miffed that it’s Lotte’s Chum Churum soju, and not Chamisul (which is, after all, the one that Psy promotes) that is benefiting.

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