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No need to freeze, ready to eat is latest food fad

Sept 08,2017
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CJ CheilJedang’s line of Bibigo ready-made food products. [CJ CHEILJEDANG]
With competition growing in the so-called home meal replacement market, unfrozen products preserved at room temperature have become the new battlefield for Korean food manufacturers.

Instant food products that replace home-cooked meals have been growing in popularity since 2013 with the rising number of people living alone. The market has largely been driven by frozen food products because the processes required to preserve unfrozen food are thought to degrade the flavor of the food.

“At home, products like soup are cooked for hours,” an industry source said. “The technology for unfrozen instant food used in the past couldn’t mimic the taste by merely sterilizing them on high heat for 20 to 30 minutes. This created the public perception of these foods being less tasty.”

Over the years, however, technology for cooking and packaging ingredients has evolved to produce outcomes with enhanced taste and texture. Consumer perception of these food products has improved with it.

On Thursday, food maker Sajo Haepyo added four dishes to its lineup of home meal replacements. All products from this line can be kept at room temperature. The new options include marinated pork and seasoned sesame leaves, salty side dishes that frequently appear on Korean dinner tables with rice. Sajo’s competitor in canned food, Dongwon F&B, launched a line of canned marinated chicken in June.

A common marketing strategy is targeting picnickers and campers who can consume the products without having to heat them. They are also packaged to be light, small and easy to open.

Other unfrozen food products require short reheating in microwaves, and they have become popular among single-person households.

On Wednesday, CJ Cheil Jedang released three such products under its brand Bibigo. The expanded line includes marinated meat stews that can be stored outside the refrigerator. Bibigo, which launched last year, has so far focused on soup. The company said it had been researching the technology to give liquids a more gravy-like texture to produce the instant stews.

Emart has expressed a strong intention to expand its line of unfrozen dishes under its brand Peacock. More than 70 percent of Peacock’s sales currently come from its frozen products, but the company plans to expand its lineup of food preserved in room temperature to 100 products this year. Late last month, it released two rice soup products, in bean paste and spicy beef variations.

For companies with global ambitions like CJ CheilJedang and Emart, unfrozen food products offer a good export because they can be preserved much longer than frozen or refrigerated dishes and require less transportation costs from refrigeration.

In Korea, the pioneer of unfrozen instant food is Ottogi, which used to dominate the sector since unveiling its “3 Minute Meals” lineup in 1981. But since Bibigo’s launch last year, CJ CheilJedang has revived competition in the sector.

In February, CJ topped the market for ready-made soups with a 37.7 percent share, pushing Ottogi to second with 27 percent.

“The market is getting more diverse and developing in a way that provides the easiest way possible to cook the food,” a CJ CheilJedang spokesman said, “to throw a dish inside a microwave for less than five minutes instead of cooking on a stove.”


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