+ A

New dosirak herald spring’s arrival

Mar 20,2017
이미지뷰
From left, 7-Eleven’s marinated pork and webfoot octopus rice set; CU’s marinated pork and vegetable rice set; and Ministop’s stir-fried beef and chives rice set. [7-Eleven, BGF Retail, MINISTOP]
As the warmer weather heralds the arrival of spring and parks open their grounds to picnickers, convenience stores are racing to add seasonal ingredients to their lineup of dosirak, boxed meals that are popular picnic items in Korea.

CU, the top convenience store chain in the country, reported that sales of ready-made meals during the first week of March jumped 27 percent compared to the previous month. Among those items, dosriak and gimbap, rice rolls that are also a staple in Korean picnic baskets, posted the largest increase of 24 percent.

The rising temperatures are benefiting convenience stores near parks, which last week saw an 87 percent sales increase of ready-made food items from the previous month. It’s a stark contrast to the monthly 10 percent increase in February, when the thermometer often fell below freezing.

“March is the start of new school semesters, college festivals and picnics,” said Lee Na-ra, merchandiser of ready-made food at CU. “Ready-made items see a seasonal boost in sales at this time of year.”

Riding the spring wave, CU released two dosirak products on Tuesday: Yeochini Ssajun Dosirak (which roughly translates to “dosirak made by the girlfriend”) and Eommaga Ssajun Dosirak (or “mom-made dosirak”). Both boxes include rice and side dishes including meat, seafood and vegetables. CU said Thursday that it will follow up with a series of “dad-made” and “boyfriend-made” dosirak.

Pre-empting the warm weather, CU also released a rice bowl set last month called Gochujang Bulgogi Bibimbap that includes marinated pork and five spring vegetables mixed with red pepper paste. These five vegetables are traditionally associated with spring because they are said to help replenish the body after low nutritional intake during the winter.

Rival convenience store chain Ministop also released a seasonal dosirak product called Sogogi Dallae Muchim Dosirak that contains rice, stir-fried beef and wild chives. Wild chives are a popular spring vegetable said to be full of vitamins and calcium. Many people associate its scent with the arrival of spring.

“Vegetables reach their peak in both nutrition and taste during this season,” said Han Sang-mo, Ministop’s merchandiser for dosirak. “Our plan is to devise more ready-made meals using seasonal ingredients.”

Another convenience store chain, 7-Eleven, is using seasonal seafood as the main ingredient of its limited-edition spring dosirak. Jjukkumi Bulgogi Bibimbap went on sale in late February and will only be available until April. The rice set includes marinated pork and webfoot octopus in a spicy sauce. Webfoot octopus is a culinary favorite in Korea, and those caught in the spring are said to contain the most taurine, which can help lower cholesterol and relieve fatigue.

Akin to Japan’s bento boxes, dosirak in Korea have become a core product for convenience stores in the past few years thanks to the rise in single-person households. The meal sets typically cost around 3,000 to 5,000 won ($2.70 to $4.40) and are popular among those living alone.

Convenience stores have worked on improving the quality of their dosirak in the past two years, developing more diverse menus and obtaining fresher ingredients. In 2015, CU even opened a dedicated research and development center for ready-made meals.

The domestic market for convenience store dosirak reached 132.9 billion won in 2015, when most recent numbers are available. This was a 70.4 percent jump from three years earlier, according to a report last month by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]