Supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 20 Korean companies presented their F&B products during the K-Food Fair in Kuala Lumpur on 25 August. Malaysian trade buyers showed great interest in the Korean F&B products based on their high nutritious values. Both exporters and importers believe that Halal certification will significantly facilitate the transactions. If you would like to experience the taste of Korean F&B products, you may visit the consumer-based exhibition at the Oval section, located on the lower ground floor of New Wing, One Utama Shopping Centre this weekend (27-28 August).

Over the past three decades, South Korea has been among the fast growing countries. Reports from the World Bank and other global financial organisations show the revolutionary transformation of the country’s economy during this period. You may want to review the growth in GDP per capita and labour force, and also the decline in inflation and imports. As a member of the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), South Korea is the most industrialised country. Korean Industries include technology and microelectronic products, car manufacturing, foods and beverages in addition to TV drama which appeals to people from different countries around the world. Perhaps the quality and the relatively low prices helped promoting Korean products, making them highly competitive.

The government in South Korea supports the various sectors to excel locally and expand internationally. In particular, special focus is being placed on food and beverage (F&B) products. Korean F&Bs are famous for being nutritious. This has been the significant reason behind the wide spread of Korean restaurants across the globe, and also the increase in exports of Korea’s processed foods and beverages. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs conducts several activities to promote Korean F&B products. One of these is the Korean Food Fair, which is commonly known as K-Food Fair. Previously, the fair was organised in China to tap in the huge market there. This year, however, the fair was organised in Malaysia with the aim of expanding the reach of Korean F&B products to new markets.

One remarkable characteristic of this year’s K-Food Fair is the high interest of Korean F&B producers to receive the Halal certification in order to ease the process of exporting their products to Muslim consumers, who are very sensitive and cautious about the compliant of the foods and drinks they consume with the Islamic standards. This is particularly true when the F&B products are imported from a non-Muslim country. In this case, they insist to look for a Halal logo stamped on the package of the item they are intending to buy. In many Muslim countries, merely importing F&B products which are not certified is not allowed in the first place, not to speak about whether consumers are buying them or not. In a country like Malaysia, where the population is highly religiously diversified, these products may get through the borders. But marketing them to more than 60 per cent of Malaysians (Muslims) is the real challenge.

The K-Food Fair took place on 25 August 2016, in the presence of 20 Korean F&B companies, Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT), Korean Muslim Federation (KMF), and the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM). It started by a special presentation by Mohd Fakarudin bin Masod, Chief Assistant Director of JAKIM who explained the procedure which companies need to go through in order to get their products Halal certified. Being the organiser of the event, we spoke to Director General of aT, Yoo Byung Lyul to ask about the significance of bringing the K-Food Fair to Malaysia this year. He seemed very excited in reference to the potential demand for Korean F&B products in Malaysia. Lyul said that the closeness geographically and somehow culturally between Malaysia and South Korea are the main reasons to organise the event in Malaysia this year.

The KMF in Korea issues Halal certificates to Korean companies and the good thing about having the K-Food Fair in Malaysia is that JAKIM recognises the certifications which are issued by KMF. “This means all the 140 companies listed by KMF can export their certified products to Malaysia” Lyul said. Answering our question about any plans to bring the Korean F&B products to other Muslim countries, perhaps in the Middle East, he explained that this will be a future step after evaluating the experience in Malaysia. However, he highlighted two concerns the Korean government and exporters have about the idea. First, Arabian culture and food tastes are quite different from those in Korea, and hence Korean F&B products may not be much welcome there. Second, every country has different process of certification for Halal, which means more effort and cost will be incurred when moving to each new country. Lyul argued the establishment of a globally-recognised process to issue a universal certificate and logo.

During the fair we met Mathew Lee, the Managing Director of KMT, which is the largest importer of Korean products to Malaysia, including F&B since 1994. Asking him about his experience in the Malaysian market, Lee mentioned it has been great so far expecting it to be better in the future. He acknowledged the significance of event such as the K-Food Fair to boost the transactions between Malaysia and South Korea. “The market is quite big here, there are so many opportunities and the benefits for all parties would be high if we were able to work together,” he said. The discussion of JAKIM’s requirements for the Halal certification procedure to get more Korean products certified helps KMT’s business very much. “We do not have a problem bringing Korean F&B products to Malaysia, but we face major challenge marketing them to the Muslim consumers,” he explained.

Moving around the different booths, it was wonderful to see the variety of products whose nutritious benefits appear in the ingredients and process used to produce them. Dried food was most of what we saw and tasted. Also, we saw different kinds of tea which one would never tell it was tea! We are used to packed, not bottled jelly-looking, tea. Ice cream which can be made at home is also among the items. We spoke to some of the companies and asked about their products, their perception of the Halal certification process explained earlier in the day, and their expectations in the Malaysian market. Kim, the Overseas Business Director of WOOMTREE CORPORATION explained the nature of the products they are planning to certify for the Malaysian market. “Although in Korea we use the same paste for almot everything, we are bringing a number of flavours at different levels of spiciness which we believe will meet the various tastes in Malaysia,” he said. As it is their first experience with Halal certification, Kim and his company hope to boost exports to Malaysia soon.

Before ending our interesting visit to the K-Food Fair, we spoke to Yoon from HANSUNG FOOD CO., LTD. who explained the company’s experience with the Halal certification process at KMF in Korea. “It takes a lot of paper work, onsite visits before the certification is issued after 3 months,” he said. The significant difference between the volume of exports before and after the certification is worth the effort, he added. Unlike many other F&B Korean producers, HANSUNG exports to different destinations in the Muslim world besides Malaysia including the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. KMF’s certificate is sufficient to enter these countries. “However, we sometimes need to go through a process of verification before being allowed to export certain products to certain Muslim countries,” he explained.