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Filling up the cart with Korean labels

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi | Updated on September 25, 2020 Published on September 25, 2020

The sentiment against Chinese products is helping retailers of Korean products in India

Tech and media policy professional Prasanto Kumar Roy’s go-to bakeries in Gurgaon are the Korean ones – especially Sibang and Sonya in South Point mall.

He says his favourite dessert is Bingsu, a Korean milk and shaved ice sorbet. Roy also often picks up Korean food items from specialty retail stores in Gurgaon.

He is not alone. Korean products – from food to cosmetics and toys – are inexorably finding their way into the shopping carts of Indians. So much so that a year-and-a-half ago, See Young-Doo, a South Korean who has made India his home since 2004, launched Korikart, an e-commerce store stocking Korean products. It has four lakh users.

“Over 90 per cent of them are Indians,” says the Korikart founder. After K-pop, K-drama, and K-food, it is now K-beauty that is really being loved by Indians, he says. And while vocal for local may be trending, Young-Doo says the sentiments against China that spurred this movement has helped Korikart, as customers are picking up Korean products instead.

Toy sales spike

For instance, he says in recent months, there has been a spike in sales of toy products on the Korikart site. Beauty brands such as Innisfree and foods such as Ramen noodles continue to do well.

The trend is not limited to Korean products alone. Across Delhi NCR, there are now stores stocking Japanese products exclusively or shops that sell Thai and Japanese labels.

On Nykaa, there are over 1,100 Korean beauty products, and it is a category in itself. Similarly, on Ubuy India, you can pick up a plethora of food products from sauces to condiments to noodles from Thailand, in addition to toys, bags and fashion items.

Gone are those days when expats had to trudge to INA market to get their favourite Thai or exotic ingredient.

“This was a trend waiting to happen,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a consultancy for retail.

He says back in 2004 when the Japanese and Korean companies had started arriving in huge numbers, he had forecast this was a retail opportunity.

Now beyond the expat community, there is a larger consumer base of Indians who are eager to explore new cuisines and products from South East Asia and East Asia, where they have widely travelled, he says. It has, for instance, led to the expansion of controversial store Miniso, which fashions itself as Japanese but whose origins are more Chinese.

Golden opportunity

Seo Young-Doo was, in fact, early to spot the opportunity. He arrived here to work in an automotive parts factory in Aurangabad. But then jumped into entrepreneurship becoming a Korean importing vendor for TV shopping channel HomeShop 18. Over time, seeing the demand for Korean products he launched Korikart.

“I already had a huge database of people interested in Korean products from delivering to them on Homeshop18,” he says.

Young-Doo says rather than using platforms such as Amazon or Flipkart and get lost in the clutter, he chose to set up a marketplace devoted to Korean products himself as these items needed detailed instructions and marketing. Sixty per cent of the products on Korikart have YouTube videos made on them describing how to use, an investment that Young-Doo has put in himself. Korikart has also invested hugely on social media promotions, running recipe and other contests on Facebook.

While all the products on Korikart are from Korea, Young-Doo says they are now localising the gift boxes.

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Published on September 25, 2020
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