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Alone for the New Year? Traditional foods abound

Jan 24,2020
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Dosirak (packaged meals) containing traditional foods from convenience store franchises Emart24 and 7-Eleven. [EMART24, 7-ELEVEN]
As a growing number of Koreans are spending holidays like the upcoming Lunar New Year alone, retail chains are targeting the demographic with pre-packaged versions of traditional holiday meals.

For those with nowhere to go, many convenience stores are offering dosirak, or packaged meals, that include side dishes often eaten during the holidays.

In a survey conducted by JobKorea, more than half of the 3,390 respondents said they want to spend the holidays alone. Thirty percent attributed this to stressful family gatherings, where they often face those classic questions like “When will you get a job?” or “When are you getting married?”

For its part, Emart24 has introduced a soup filled with sliced rice cake and dumplings, a traditional New Year’s food that Koreans associate with getting one year older. Priced at 4,500 won ($4), the soup is ready to eat after pouring in hot water, adding the given sauce and microwaving.

The retailer said its sales of dosirak during the Lunar New Year holidays have been skyrocketing over the past three years, with nearly 50 percent jumps recorded in both 2018 and 2019.

Competitor 7-Eleven released a series of dosirak and microwavable japchae, or stir-fried noodles mixed with vegetables. Its dosirak, priced at 5,500 won, consists of various kinds of seasoned vegetables and pan-fried delicacies.

“The number of consumers spending the holidays alone has increased recently,” a 7-Eleven spokesperson said. “We have introduced various food categories to enable people to abundantly enjoy their holiday meal alone.”

Rival convenience store chain CU’s efforts to target the growing demographic include using Spam, which is one of the most popular gifts to exchange during the national holidays.

CU is offering a dosirak that consists of a giant 17.5 by 8.5 centimeter (6.9 by 3.3 inch) block of the processed meat product for 4,000 won. CU worked with Spam manufacturer CJ Cheiljedang for the special holiday product.

Since most of the holiday dosirak consist of pan-fried delicacies, japchae and vegetables, CU decided to bring out something different considering the majority of the people who spend the holidays alone are in their 20s or 30s.

For people hoping to avoid extensive cooking projects before performing ancestral rites, Emart and Homeplus are promoting their own versions of food used for those rituals.

Emart’s Peacock private brand is offering discounts on 52 types of ritual foods, including grilled short rib patties and bindaetteok, or mung bean pancakes, until Sunday. Homeplus is similarly offering discounts on ritual foods until Jan. 29.

Sales of simple dishes continue to increase. According to Emart, sales of convenient ritual foods a week before the day of the Lunar New Year have seen an average 20 percent increase each year from 2017 through 2019. The retail giant expects this year’s sales to reach 1.6 billion won.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]