After years of major economic changes resulting from COVID-19, we are checking in with our key produce leaders around the globe. To kick off our new summer series spotlighting our Vanguard leaders in different global markets, we sat down with Kirk Son, Sales and Procurement Associate at Vanguard International who has a strong focus on Korea.
What is the current state of the fresh produce industry in Korea?
Kirk: Korea has always had a strong demand for fresh produce items, both locally grown and imported fruits. In recent years, the demand for Shine Muscat has experienced a remarkable surge becoming one of the most sought-after items in Korea. Additionally, the region has seen significant production volume increases of Apples, Pears, Stone Fruits, and Jeju Island Mandarins.
What has been the biggest change in the exports market in the last few years?
Kirk: One significant change is the emergence of local Shine Muscat grapes, which have started to dominate the entire Korean market. The volume of production is expected to continue to increase over the next few years. On the other hand, certain USA products, including California navel oranges, grapes, and avocados, are facing challenges in terms of sales, primarily due to higher pricing. Specifically, California avocados have become exceptionally difficult to sell since Peruvian avocados became available to the Korean market a few years ago. As a result, California avocados have nearly vanished from Korea since they cannot compete with the Peruvian offerings.
What is the current overall economic health of the region?
Kirk: Like many other regions, Korea suffered tremendous economic difficulties during the pandemic. In addition to that, there have been some trading challenges between Korea and China. This presents a problem since China serves as Korea’s largest customer. Lastly, the exchange rate in Korea is also fluctuating, leading importers to be more conservative.
What is proving the biggest challenge in your region for the industry?
Kirk: Currently, Korea is facing a record low birth rate of 0.8%, leading to the rapid aging of its’ population. More than one in five adults are suffering from significant debt due to soaring housing costs and the overall cost of living. With the changes in family makeup, it is a pivotal moment for Korea and one that will greatly impact its’ future economic circumstances.
What other global markets are you most impacted by?
Kirk: While Korean is one of our primary markets, we also cater to selective customers in Indonesia and Taiwan, both of which seem to have strong markets for our fresh fruits.
What are your future predictions for Korea?
Kirk: There are a number of factors that could and should be considered. For example, the population of South Korea is 52 million. Compare that to North Korea’s 26 million, yet North Korea holds vast potential for raw material with plenty of territory to be developed. There is undoubtedly a lot of potential to look to for the future.
Stay tuned as we hop across the globe this summer to speak with more of Vanguard’s key produce leaders.