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Products for warmth are selling like hotcakes

Dec 21,2017
Top: Jjinppang (steamed buns) and stockings sold at the convenience store CU. Bottom: Washable electric blankets and blankets filled with hot water sold on the Auction website. [CU, AUCTION]
This December is set to be one of the coldest in the past 30 years, and one beneficiary of the extreme weather is retailers selling snacks that purport to beat the cold.

While department stores and shopping malls are profiting from the explosive popularity of bench coats this winter, smaller retailers like convenience stores and health and beauty stores like Olive Young are seeing sweet potatoes, coffee and steamed buns flying off their shelves like hot cakes.

CU, the country’s largest convenience store chain, said its steady winter seller jjinppang (steamed buns filled with red bean paste) sold 52.6 percent better this year between Dec. 1 and 19 compared to last year.

In fact, jjinppang has been selling so well that SPC Samlip, a manufacturer of baked goods, expects record annual sales, with the year-on-year increase having already surpassed 15 percent.

An even bigger winter hit has been roasted sweet potatoes. At CU, its sales have grown more than threefold so far this month compared to last December.

In Korea, roasted sweet potato is a street food typically sold in the winter. Street vendors make them in drums filled with coal.

“We tested oven-roasted sweet potatoes at a few of our branches last year, and the consumer response has been great so far,” a CU spokesman said.

Hot coffee and soy milk are also selling more, each recording a sales increase of 23.2 percent and 16.9 percent.

And it’s not just food and beverages. Masks to protect against the cold and stockings have each sold 30.1 percent and 25.1 percent better at CU this year.

Masks were a popular item at health and beauty stores selling daily necessities like makeup and shampoo. The year-on-year increase of mask sales at Olive Young was 75 percent between Dec. 11 and 13, when the average temperature suddenly fell from above zero to 7 below Celsius (from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 19 degrees).

Olive Young, which operates the largest number of health and beauty stores in Korea, surmised that the dramatic temperature drop prompted unprepared customers to immediately purchase masks from its stores.

Hand warmer and stocking sales rose at Olive Young, too, by 25 percent and 15 percent.

Online, warming devices have proven popular. On the e-commerce site Auction, gas heaters sold 120 percent better between Dec. 11 and 17 compared to the previous year. Sales of hot water bag soared 227 percent, and hot air blower sales rose 88 percent. Electric blankets sold 44 percent better than last year.

“One warming item where we saw popularity shoot up this year was washable electronic blankets that can be cleaned in washing machines,” said Lee Jin-young, a manager of living and leisure goods on Auction.

She added that kotatsu, a wooden Japanese table with a heating source underneath, was also a trendy item this season.

Whereas for the last three weeks the weather was colder than previous Decembers, the Korea Meteorological Administration predicted that temperatures for the remaining week of the month and January will be much closer to the 30-year average.

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