When more than fifty million people start to crave the food you produce, that’s good for business. So if you’re in the Canadian food industry, get ready, because that’s exactly what’s happening in South Korea.
Mike Weisbart has witnessed the shift in appetite first-hand.
“It has become fashionable in Korea to try new, high quality foreign foods,” says Weisbart, from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in South Korea. “Disposable incomes are higher now, and this has made foreign foods, especially processed foods and meats, more affordable.”
Weisbart also believes this shift can be attributed to the government becoming less restrictive on imports, and because the food industry in South Korea is relatively underdeveloped, foreign companies are starting to fill the void.
It’s promising news for Canadian agri-food producers from across Canada – Atlantic lobster, Alberta beef, and B.C. Ice Wine, for example, all stand to gain. And it helps that Canada already has a tremendous reputation in South Korea for quality products.
“I think our strong reputation there has a lot to do with Canada’s global brand,” says Allison Boulton, an International Trade Advisor with Small Business B.C., who works extensively with companies exporting to South Korea.
“Canada is perceived globally as this beautiful, pure, wide-open place, so when Koreans think Canada they think fresh air, clean waters and sweeping golden prairies. I think that translates into how Koreans think about our food, because Canadian fish are pulled from those pristine waters, and crops are grown in those picturesque fields. That certainly has an impact.”
So Koreans want what we have to offer, but what can Canadian companies expect in terms of doing business there? Well, South Korea ranks fourth on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” list (the same list ranks the U.S. seventh and Canada fourteenth), and of all the Asian markets, the country also gets high marks for its strong infrastructure, highly educated and skilled workforce, and improved standards of corporate governance.
And with the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement recently being ratified in January 2015, effectively reducing tariffs on a vast number of Canada’s food offerings, it further strengthens the case for expanding business to the ‘land of the morning calm.’
Barriers exist though, as they do with any foreign market that differs considerably from our own. Language, culture, and different ways of doing business, for example, can cause headaches.
Here’s some advice, from the experts, on how to overcome those challenges:
Allison Boulton, Small Business B.C.
“Especially if you are a small business, you need to dedicate yourself to the market. Get on a plane, fly there, scope out the industry or sector that you would like to step into. See who the competition is and pick out your niche. Do your homework and use the wealth of resources that are available to Canadian exporters – the more prepared you are to deal with the common export roadblocks that are sure to pop up, the more time you’ll be able to dedicate to actually growing your business in the market.”
Mike Weisbart, Canadian Chamber of Commerce in South Korea
“There are a lot of logistics you need to consider before doing business in Korea, especially if you’re selling goods. The distribution system there, for example, is very complex. You will need someone to show you the ropes, so find a local partner you can trust, especially if you don’t speak the language. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the local labor laws, accounting practices, and regulatory requirements for products. It sounds daunting, but there are lots of resources to help you out.”
Here, to get you started, are a few of those resources:
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Korea
- Small Business B.C.
- Export Development Canada
- Global Affairs Canada
- The Trade Commissioner Services
- Business Development Canada
- Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP)
- Manitoba Trade & Investment
- Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada (AMC)
- Canadian Special Crops Association (CSCA)
- Groupe Export Agroalimentaire
- Farm Credit Canada