March 23, 2011

South Korean pork belly price hinders purchases



South Koreans are forfeiting their beloved pork belly to look for alternative cuts and sources of protein as the price of pork increases in South Korea.


Koreans' preference for pork belly, as opposed to any other cut of pork, is legendary with it being a staple at restaurants as well as in homes, according to the Korean media.


According to E-Mart, Korea's largest discount store chain, more than 40% of their total pork sales usually come from a pork belly. According to the latest numbers from the Korea Swine Association, pork belly accounts for 48% of all store-bought pork in Korea.

This is a mirror opposite from Western nations, where the loin and ham (hind leg) cuts are often the most expensive and prized among pork. Even in neighbouring Japan, loin and ham compose more than 60% of consumption, while pork belly accounts for only 15%.


In spite of Koreans' love for pork belly, consumers cannot stand by pork belly in the face of skyrocketing prices. The price of pork belly in Seoul, which sold for KRW8,400 (US$7.48) per 500 grammes at the end of last year, rose 65% in less than three months to KRW13,900 (US$12.37) as of 16 March, according to the Korea Price Research Center.


This has caused a shift in pork purchasing patterns. According to E-Mart earlier this month, sales of cheaper ham and loin cuts of pork have increased as customers abandon the expensive pork belly and shoulder cuts.


The front leg cut accounted for 13.9% of pork sales at E-Mart between January 1 and March 10, a 3.3 percentage point rise from a year ago. On the other hand, the market share of pork belly fell by 5.9 percentage points to 43.7% and shoulder cuts fell by six percentage points to 18.3%.

"Considering that such changes are visible even though pork belly prices are comparatively lower in discount stores due to bargain sales, other retail markets must have seen a higher preference for alternative pork cuts such as ham," said Moon Joo-seok, a buyer at E-Mart.


Local experts said that one positive aspect of customer migration to other pork cuts might be a chance for the public to develop more diverse and healthier tastes.


"It will be difficult to change a local food culture that only prefers pork belly," said Kim Seong-wan, a professor at the Nonghyup Anseong Training Institute. "Developing a variety of cooking methods for low-fat pork cuts, marketing efforts and a change in customer awareness is necessary."

Video >

Follow Us