Introduction to the Korean Seafood Market

(Researcher PARK JIHYUN, Overseas Markets Analysis Center, KMI)

General Condition of Korea

South Korea is surrounded by the sea on three sides, has access to various fishery products, and is the country that consumes the most fishery products in the world.
Let's take a closer look at Korea, the mecca of seafood consumption.
Geographical conditions A peninsula country surrounded by the sea on three sides of Northeast Asia
Area 10,036,371.5 ha
(Based on the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in 2017)
Population 51,821,669 people
(Based on the National Statistical Office in 2021)
GDP 1.6463 trillion USD
(Based on Bank of Korea, The World Bank in 2019)
GDP per capita 31,838.2 USD
(Based on Bank of Korea, The World Bank in 2019)
Annual consumption of fishery products per capita 58.4kg as of 2013~2015, On top of the world
(Based on FAO, SOFIA in 2020)

Seafood Consumption Trends in Korea

1The rapidly growing ‘zero-contact’ consumption market for fishery products

   In the past, the eating culture that Koreans prefer to buy fresh fish after checking directly by eyes and eat them with raw fish, grilled, and braised is deeply rooted in Korea. However, the COVID-19 is changing Korean food culture and purchasing behavior in a completely different way than before.
  The biggest change is that consumers no longer insist on seeing and buying fish directly when they buy fish. As non-face-to-face consumption of fishery products is spreading, centering on online shopping, the so-called DMH (Delivery. Meal-kit, Home meal replacement) market, which means the delivery, meal kit, and home convenience food market, is growing rapidly.
  The share of online purchases of food has been steadily increasing since before the COVID-19, however it has made the non face-to-face transformation of the distribution environment faster. Korea's online shopping for agricultural and fishery products has grown by as much as 4 trillion KRW from 2.4 trillion KRW in 2017 to 6.2 trillion KRW in 2020.

Source: Market Kurly, Mega Mart Mall, Naver (searched on Jun. 23, 2021)

  Processed foods that incorporate fishery products into various recipes are also easy to find. In particular, the food industry is launching convenience foods continuously that have no cumbersome preparation processes, such as thorns and fish smell. Not only major food companies such as bibigo and Ottogi, but also various start-ups are jumping into the field of processed foods of fishery products.

Source: bibigo, Fresheasy, Ottogi (searched on Jun. 23, 2021)

  Fishery Meal Kit offers a solution that makes it easy to cook meals that are not normally available at home and only accessible through dining out. Meal Kit products are popular with single-person households and small household consumers, as they contain fixed quantities of processed foodstuffs other than seafood, allowing them to reproduce a luxurious taste without having to buy one by one at a time.

Source: Blog of National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives

2Consumers who are close to the producing area through the use of online malls

  South Korea's "Direct Delivery From The Farm" service, where local producers send goods directly to consumers, is one of the biggest issues in the retail industry. South Korea’s Supermarkets make dedicated "Direct Delivery From The Farm" in online malls, and various platform companies are emerging, and producers sometimes open online malls and deliver goods themselves. Korean consumers are comparing transparently published quotes and purchase reviews and using online "Direct Delivery From The Farm" service, and their satisfaction is high because of the high freshness, low price, and fast delivery service.
  As a result of this change in distribution structure, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has continuously announced a direct trade support plan for fishery product producers. This includes various plans expanding fish sales outlets in existing local food stores, directly supporting producers in product development and processing and packaging facilities, operating online markets, setting up producer distribution hubs, and operating a drive-through in the city.

3Increased consumer awareness of health and sustainability

  With the recent surge in demand for healthy foods, consumers are increasingly looking for fishery products for health. In particular, products highlighting nutritional benefits such as low-calorie and high-protein foods are also being launched in Korea, especially as seafood is gaining global attention as a quality protein source.
  In addition, Korean consumers tend to purchase eco-friendly and ethical products when buying food. The increased interest in organic ecosystems such as humans, animals, and the environment has led to a higher awareness that healthy growing foods are good for the human body. This interest naturally leads to increased interest in sustainability certifications such as MSC, ASC, and organic certification.

A Glance at the Korean Fisheries Market

*As of 2020
Production of fishery products Production 3.7 million tons
Top 10 of the major produced fish species Sea tangle 18.2%
Laver 14.4%
Sea mustard 13.6%
Oyster 8.8%
Tuna 8.2%
Anchovy 5.8%
Squid 2.7%
Mackerel 2.2%
Hairtail 1.8%
Mussel 1.7%
Import of fishery products Import of fishery products: 5.6 billion USD
Top 10 of the major imported fish species Fish species Share of inports Major importing countries
Squid 8% China, Peru, Argentina
Pollock 7% Russia, USA, China
Shrimp 6% Vietnam, Ecuador, Thailand
Salmon 6% Norway, Chile, Russia
Whip-arm octopus 4% China, Vietnam, Thailand
Crab 4% Russia, Norway, China
Tuna 3% Italy, France, Morocco
Webfoot octopus 3% Vietnam, Thailand, China
Snow crab 3% Russia
Eel 2% Hong Kong, China, Philippines
Export of fishery products Export of fishery products: 2.3 billion USD
Top 10 of the major exported fish species Fish species Share of exports Major exporting countries
Laver 26% USA, Japan, China
Tuna 23% Japan, Thailand, China
Crab 5% China, Hong Kong, Taiwan
Oyster 3% Japan, USA, Hong Kong
Cod 2% China, Denmark, Indonesia
Abalone 2% Japan, Vietnam, USA
Fishcake 2% Japan, USA, China
Turbot 2% Japan, USA, China
Sea mustard 2% Japan, USA, China
Mackerel 2% China, Ghana, Nigeria

Source: Statistics Korea, TRASS