Mon, Oct 17, 2016 - Page 15 News List

S Korea’s ‘chimaek’ craze causes chicken glut as producers fight for market share

Reuters, SEOUL

A man looks at a menu for friend chicken at a restaurant in Seoul on Tuesday last week.

Photo: Reuters

Do not count your chickens before they hatch.

Global poultry producers hoping to cash in on South Korea’s craze for fried chicken and beer face a market crowded with local birds that have clipped prices and profits for South Korean growers.

The popularity of the combination, known as chimaek — a mash-up of chicken and maekju, the Korean word for beer — has boomed in recent years, fueled by its appearance in a hit South Korean TV drama and an explosion of restaurant chains.

Chimaek stores now dot South Korea and their ubiquitous delivery services shuttle freshly fried chicken and beer to homes, offices and picnics.

At a Seoul outlet of a popular barbecue chain, Kim Chang-hoo said he and his colleagues had planned to go to a sushi restaurant for a company dinner, but decided instead on chimaek.

“I cannot help think of chicken, even when I’m eating sushi,” Kim, 24, said. “I don’t know if it’s just me, but chicken always comes to my mind and is always delicious.”

The craze has pitted domestic chicken producers in an increasingly tough battle for market share, prompting an oversupply and a drop in farm prices.

Now imports are set to rise as South Korea lifts bans on overseas suppliers who are attracted by still low per capita consumption rates.

South Koreans ate 14.2kg of poultry meat each last year, a near three-fold increase since 1990 according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data, but only half the global average of 28.6kg per person.

South Korea’s market for chicken is expected to grow 5 percent to 1.01 million tonnes this year and a further 3 percent next year, according to the US Department of Agriculture, boosted by the chimaek craze.

Supply is currently dominated by the country’s three biggest producers — Harim Co Ltd, Dongwoo Co Ltd and Maniker Co Ltd.

All have seen their earnings hit in the first half of this year as they ramp up production to secure market share.

Harim managing director Park Ju-no acknowledged producers were engaged in a “game of chicken,” each holding a potentially dangerous course in the hope their rivals flinch first.

“We think it’s more crucial to focus on quality differentiation to survive instead of adjusting production, even though it contributes to a glut,” Park said.

Park expects the imbalance to ease in the second half as the number of slaughtered chickens drops in summer, but sees the market oversupplied again next year as imports from the US and Thailand resume.

In July, Asia’s fourth-largest economy lifted a ban on chicken imports from the US, imposed due to a bird flu outbreak last year.

It is next month likely to resume imports from Thailand, banned since a 2004 bird flu outbreak, according to the South Korean Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency.

Overall, South Korean chicken imports are expected to rise 9 percent to 130,000 tonnes this year, and a further 8 percent next year, due to the resumption of US chicken imports, the department’s report showed.

Analysts said the increase in chicken imports could squeeze domestic producers with lower prices. US suppliers might also find conditions challenging.

“It’s going to be a tougher market, because the US only had to compete against Brazil before, but now there are more competitors, like Denmark and sooner or later Thailand,” said Jenis Bae, manager at KTSC, which has imported US chickens for almost 20 years.

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