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Food that cares for people who struggle to eat

July 03,2018
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CJ CheilJedang has launched a new range of ready-made meals targeted at people that are physically incapable of eating regular food, such as hospital patients and the elderly.

The processed food maker defines the new range, known as care food, as “next generation ready-made meals for those who need specially formulated food for health reasons.” Although it is mainly targeted at senior citizens and hospital patients, the company hopes care food will also eventually be popular with dieters, pregnant women, young children and people that are temporarily physically impaired due to dental treatment.

CJ CheilJedang plans to roll out the new products in the second half of the year. Five products have already been developed, including; “soft bulgogi rice,” “bibimbap with soybean paste” and “rice with mapa tofu.” The company plans to develop nine more items this year and launch a total of 14 products.

CJ CheilJedang said the food manufacturing technology that the company has accumulated is its key strength. The company has been conducting research in food technology for years, and first developed a low-protein instant rice product for patients suffering from rare diseases in 2009.

The company credits its “raw ingredients control” technology, a technique to make easily digestible food that allows consumers to enjoy the original taste and texture of ingredients without needing to physically break it up, with the success of the latest range. Care food also has reduced sodium levels.

“We have been working hard in this area because it is important to retain the taste and appearance of the original dishes for our consumers’ enjoyment,” said a company spokesperson.

Care food will initially be introduced in hospitals. The company signed a memorandum of understanding for a business partnership with Severance Hospital in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on June 22. CJ CheilJedang will research and develop care food and Severance Hospital will provide advice on nutrition. Meals will be introduced at the hospital this year, with sales set to expand to regular consumers next year.

Although care food is a relatively new phenomenon in Korea, there is already an established market in other countries.

In the United States, the market for food catering to the needs of patients, infants and the elderly is valued at 26 trillion won ($23 billion). It is expected to surpass 30 trillion won in 2020.

Japan, which already had over 20 percent of its population aged 65 and older in 2006, is also advanced in the care food field. While the biggest market for the products in Japan has always been the elderly, the number of younger consumers that are turning to care food is growing due to reasons such as poor nutrition.

The Japanese government is so active in care food development that it has even come up with a classification system called “Smile Care.” Food is divided into seven groups based on the effort it takes to chew and swallow, and a logo on the packaging makes it easy for consumers to identify the products’ categorization.

Care foods for various age groups can easily be found at convenience stores, restaurants and delivery services. Care food is called “Kaigo,” in Japan, and its market is worth 2 trillion won.

Korean companies have also recently begun developing various types of care foods that are different from formula-based hospital food. One of the most popular types of care food is “soft food,” everyday food products that have been redesigned to be easy to chew and swallow.

Hyundai Department Store’s food company, Hyundai Green Food, created a soft food brand last October. It was the first company in Korea to build a specialized soft food manufacturing facility in Yongin, Gyeonggi, and it has applied for patents for two new products, including a soft version of steak. Currently, the company is developing ways for eight types of fish, including mackerel, to be softened without having to remove the bones. The products are being supplied to hospitals on a trial basis.

Hyundai Green Food even released a gift set containing soft foods, such as Korean beef ribs, for Lunar New Year last year. In the first half of next year, the company will finish construction of a smart food center in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, and will expand sales to regular consumers and begin mass production.

Another company, OurHome, recently applied for a patent for technology to reduce the toughness of meat, rice cakes and nuts. The technology introduces enzymes to foods in order to control the texture, and the company plans to expand its scope to include hard vegetables such as lotus and burdock roots.

Bonjuk, a chain of porridge restaurants, also recently established a production plant in Iksan, North Jeolla, and started developing liquid foods targeting everyone from infants to patients and senior citizens.


BY KANG NA-HYUN [ebusiness@joongang.co.kr]