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Consumers chill out with ice-cold ramyeon

July 05,2018
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From top: Paldo’s Bibim Men and Paldo Makguksu Ramyeon, Ottogi’s Jinjja Jjolmyeon and Chuncheon Makguksu, Samyang Foods’ Joonghwa Bibimmyeon. [EACH COMPANY]
The market for ice-cold ramyeon is heating up as companies strive to capitalize on growing demand for spicy, chilled and instant noodles.

For decades, cold ramyeon has been overshadowed by its hot soupy brother. Indeed, for many consumers, ramyeon exclusively refers to the hot soup-based dish epitomized by Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun. This summer instant noodles that are intended to be served cold without soup have taken over, pushing up the entire ramyeon market that had been in decline since last year.

Statistics from market research firm Nielsen Korea show that the market for cold ramyeon reached 114.8 billion won ($102 million) last year, a 22.4 percent increase from the previous year. The category has been maintaining an average growth of 20 percent each year since 2015.

The all-time leader in the category is Paldo’s Bibim Men, inspired by the spicy noodle dish bibim-guksu made with thin plain noodles. Since its launch in 1984, Bibim Men has been an iconic best seller in the summer instant noodle market with over 80 percent of the market share.

Bibim Men is so popular that the company started to sell its secret sauce as a stand-alone product last year after repeated requests from consumers.

“Selling the sauce independently was originally a temporary event arranged for April Fools’ day,” said a Paldo spokesman. “But we got so many requests that we launched it as a regular product.”

Bibim Men sold 99 million units last year alone. Sales between March and May reached 40 million units, an impressive record as the summer hadn’t even started yet.

Rival food companies have made multiple attempts to enter the cold ramyeon market in the past, but nobody has ever come close to taking Bibim Men’s crown. The sudden spike in demand for summer instant noodle products has finally opened the door for other manufacturers to get their products to consumers and steal some of Paldo’s market share.

Ottogi’s “Jinjja Jjolmyeon,” released in late March, is a strong competitor. Jinjja means “real” in Korean, while jjolmyeon is a dish of thick, chewy wheat noodles with spicy sauce and vegetables.

Whereas Bibim Men’s noodles are slimmer than conventional ramyeon, Jinjja Jjolmyeon’s potato starch-based noodles are thicker and chewier, similar to the original dish it is based on. In the last three months, 13 million units were sold.

Pulmuone has also joined the battle with a jjolmyeon product: “TaengTaeng Bibim Jjolmyeon.” Also released in March, the product boasts that it uses noodles that are not fried and therefore have lower calories and fat.

According to sales data from Lotte Mart, jjolmyeon-style ramyeon accounted for 32.2 percent of all summer instant noodles between May and June. Bibim-guksu style products’ share dropped 50.9 percent in the same period from 84 percent last year. Jjolmyeon’s win is impressive considering the category didn’t even exist a year ago.

Samyang Foods added a Chinese twist to bibim-guksu. Its “Joonghwa Bibimmyeon,” for which joonghwa stands for Chinese-style in Korean, contain onions, oyster sauce and chili oil - all frequent ingredients in Chinese dishes.

Another Korean dish that has taken a slice of the cold ramyeon market is makguksu, which accounted for 9.4 percent of Lotte Mart’s summer ramyeon sales between May and June. The dish is made up of dark-colored buckwheat noodles with a spicy sauce.

Both Ottogi and Paldo have released ramyeon versions this year. This is the first time that Paldo has rolled out a new summer instant noodle product since it released Bibim Men in 1984.

“In the past, people consumed such products in the summer season. But recently, we have seen a rise in sales during winter as well,” a Paldo spokesman explained on the reason for developing a new product in the category in three decades.

Industry sources cite various reasons for why spicy, cold ramyeon is suddenly so popular.

One possible cause is the influence of social media networks. More people are sharing their own recipes or videos of them trying the new products, boosting popularity. A Paldo spokesman said that because Bibim Men is soup-less, it is also more versatile.

Some see the trend as part of the recent popularity for spicy, soup-less noodles sparked by Samyang’s hugely popular Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen, or Buldak Bokkeummyeon, that created a score of YouTube challenge videos after its release in 2012.


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