How South Korean culture became popular in India


Ever since the aftermath of economic reforms in 1991, India’s ties — political and economic — with South Korea have witnessed a significant improvement. The economic relationship has got a boost with the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). For the period January-December 2020, India-South Korea trade was estimated at 16.9 Billion USD. It would be pertinent to point out, that bilateral trade between both countries has been hovering around the 20 billion USD mark in recent years, and exceeded 21 billion USD for the year 2018. There is scope to increase the level of bilateral trade, and India has been seeking a review of the CEPA in order to bring down the trade deficit and seeking enhanced access for Indian businesses (goods and services) to the South Korean market.

The India-South Korea relationship is no longer driven only by  governments, but also people to people linkages and the increasing popularity of South Korean popular culture in India.  India’s economic reforms of 1991, and the Look East Policy initiated in the 1990’s (now referred to as Act East) gave a strong fillip to economic relations between both countries, and paved the way for enhancing the popularity of brands like Samsung, Hundai and Daewoo.  It would not be incorrect to say, that  ‘ Hallyu’/Korean wave (a term referred to the global popularity of K Pop, Korean movies and dramas) and people to people exchanges have played a pivotal role in increasing awareness about numerous Korean goods and food stuffs.  The popularity of South Korean cosmetics is reiterated by an interesting statistic – nearly 40% of Indian women said that their skin care routine consisted of 25% Korean products.

Increasing popularity of Korean products Pan India

Gurgaon (Haryana), which is in the National Capital region, is home to a large number of Korean companies and expats, and a number of authentic Korean restaurants. Korean food stuffs, and other products, especially cosmetics, are becoming more popular in other parts of the country, especially Southern Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, and even smaller cities in the North-Eastern region . Korean stores like Ximi Vogue (household stuff) and Innisfree (which sells cosmetics) are also drawing more customers and becoming increasingly popular. The case of Koja is interesting, Korea and Japan have collaborated in setting up this store.

An online website, Korikart has also been set up for promotion of a wide range of Korean products including beauty products, food stuffs, accessories and food and clothing. Korikart has also set up a video commerce platform – ‘Korikart TV Home Shopping’.  This platform will have videos which help in increasing awareness about Korean products and hopes to widen the consumer base of Korean goods in India.

Apart from this, there have been numerous fairs for increasing awareness South Korean Products. South Korean envoy to India, Chang Jae Bok, recently inaugurated a 10 day fair held at Select City Walk, Saket.

 With the rise of viewership of Korean dramas and movies during the pandemic (there was a 370% jump in viewership of Korean dramas, on netflix in India between 2019-2020), Korean foods such as Kimchi, along with many other snacks, and Dalgona coffee have become increasingly popular.

One item which has witnessed an increased demand is Korean noodles. According to a report, India’s import of South Korean ramen (instant noodles) witnessed a significant increase, rising nearly three fold rise between FY 20 and FY 21.

Korean brands of noodles, especially Nongshim and Samyang, are easily available at most retail stores not just in metropolitan cities, but tier 2 cities as well. Unlike other products, the demand for noodles is not restricted only to a few Indian cities. In fact, it is extremely high in North Eastern states (North Eastern region is familiar with Korean Pop, and noodles are a favoured comfort food in the region). A recent addition to South Korean noodle brands available in India is Wang Ramen ( marketed by BTN-Insulo Indian Private Limited a South Korean company with offices in Delhi and Seoul). Wang Ramen has become immensely popular due to a number of factors; firstly, the brand is reasonably priced, second while being spicy the brand also provides pure vegetarian options. While earlier Korean brands focused, or at least began by focusing, on a handful of Indian cities, Wang Ramen has been expanding its presence across the country.

  With a growing Indian middle class, which is increasingly integrated with the rest of the world – via travel, education and most importantly, technology – the demand for South Korean goods is only likely to rise in India. This demand for South Korean products is not likely to be restricted to only a few cities, in fact the purchasing power in certain tier two cities is as high, if not higher, than that of metros. There is a specific potential for South Korean food stuffs as well as snacks — specifically noodles. Reasonable pricing, effective marketing, tapping unexplored markets, and catering to local tastes is essential. Wang Ramen’s success provides a crucial template for other brands seeking to make a successful entry into the Indian market. Wang Ramen has not been shy of taking risks, but it has done so after doing a thorough study of the Indian market as well as consumer trends. A growing fascination with Korea and online platforms like Korikart have opened up new vistas which should be tapped by Korean brands.

Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India


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