What's not happening in South Korean beef market

28 Oct, 2008 03:15 PM
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The biggest thing happening in the South Korean beef market is what's not happening: an avalanche of US beef pouring in.

Everybody in the business has under-estimated the effect on consumer sentiment of the candlelight demonstrations against imported US beef, held in Seoul and other cities in South Korea from early May through June, according to Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) Korea regional manager Glen Feist.

"We thought by this time we would see US beef everywhere, but it's not so," Mr Feist said.

The candlelight vigils, as well as a feature on the MBC TV chain's PD Diary program (South Korea's equivalent of 60 Minutes) which showed sick and injured cows being slaughtered at abattoirs in the US and reported on vCJD (the human variant of BSE which can be contracted through consumption of meat from cattle with mad cow disease) hurt sales of not only US meat but all beef, including South Korean.

Poor and unfair reporting in the popular press also hurt exporters to South Korea, Mr Feist said.

"They don't write `US beef', they write `imported beef'," he said.

The latest official South Korean beef consumption figures won't be available until January but market observers insisted purchases had gone down.

"Pork consumption has increased a lot as an alternative to beef," Meat and Wool New Zealand's Korea representative Gun-Hee Yi said.

Only butcher shops now carry US beef. The US Meat Export Federation said 10,000 shops were selling American beef but Mr Feist disputed that figure.

"It's probably 20 or 30," he said.

Mr Yi estimated an even lower number. "I understand a total of 15 butchers are selling American beef at the moment," he said.

The South Korean retail chain market is dominated by only three major department store players: E-Mart (119 outlets), Lottemart (58), and Homeplus (77), to which a merger earlier in the year has added the 34 stores of a chain now called Homever.

None of the chains will touch US beef, preferring to play a wait-and-see game over fears consumers would not buy the product.

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