To tackle the kimchi crisis, South Korea is draining huge cabbage warehouses

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean kimchi manufacturers are in deep pain — prices have plummeted as a climate change-caused cabbage shortage has driven prices up this year, compounding the damage from cheap offerings from Chinese rivals.

Such is the sense of crisis surrounding the spicy, pickled side dish eaten daily by many Koreans that is so central to Korean identity that the government recently laid out plans to build two massive cabbage storage facilities.

The facilities to be built in the rural districts of Guisan and Hainam, with an area of ​​9,900 square meters each, will be equal to three football pitches. They will be able to store 10,000 tons of cabbage and pickled 50 tons of cabbage per day.

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The construction, expected to cost taxpayers 58 billion won ($40 million), is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

For local kimchi makers struggling to buy enough cabbage at the current high prices, government intervention to stockpile produce and provide the industry with affordable prices cannot come soon enough.

Climate change in recent years that has led to higher temperatures and more rain has damaged cabbage crops, reducing supply. This year, cabbage prices have doubled in less than three months, as part of a surge in inflation to a 24-year high in July.

“We used to buy cabbage in June and then store it for later use when cabbage prices go up, but this year we are already out of stock,” said Ahn Ik-jin, CEO of Cheongwon Organic Kimchi Maker.

“We used to produce 15 tons of kimchi a day, but now we only produce 10 tons or less,” he said. His company was forced to raise the price of kimchi by two-thirds to 5,000 won ($3.5) per kilogram.

The kimchi industry in South Korea has been on a slippery slope for some time.

Chinese imports, often priced at about a third of homemade kimchi, have risen over the past two decades to account for 40% of the domestic market for commercially made kimchi.

Add to this the poor harvest of cabbage in recent years and the collapse of a large part of the industry. (While kimchi can be made from other ingredients, about three-quarters of commercially made kimchi is cabbage-based.)

Last year, nearly half of South Korea’s 1,000 kimchi makers either closed permanently, temporarily, or switched to other products, according to a study by Korea Rating & Data.

Korean kimchi makers hope the government plan will at least prevent local producers from losing more ground.

For its part, the government hopes that the storage complexes will also greatly contribute to enhancing the prestige of homemade kimchi globally, said Lim Jeong-jin, deputy director of the Food Industry Promotion Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, adding that more complexes can be built if the first two work well. .

The country’s kimchi exports rose 10.7% to a record $160 million last year, spurred by a wave of interest in Korean culture spurred by the likes of boy band BTS and Netflix’s dystopian drama “Squid Game”.

Domestically, however, there is growing concern that a shortage of cabbage will also undermine the “Kimjang” tradition – making and sharing kimchi among families, friends and communities, often performed in November to name a few.

According to an official at supermarket chain Hanaro Mart, sales of ready-made kimchi have increased 20% since August compared to the same period a year earlier.

“I usually make the kimchi myself, but the cost of the ingredients has gone up a lot,” says Kim Seok-kyung, 72, buying ready-made kimchi at a supermarket in Seoul.

“I plan to mix making and buying kimchi in the future.”

(1 dollar = 1440.9700 won)

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(Reporting by Juri Roh and Minwoo Park). Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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