With Lunar New Year holiday just around the corner, discount marts have grown busy trying to attract households with traditional food.
The Charye, or the rite of putting out food for ancestors, plays an important part in the ancestral ceremony. Rice, soup, meat, fish and fruit, as well as other dishes that were preferred by an ancestor during their life, are often added. Up to 30 dishes go on the Charye table.
More people are trying to keep tables for ancestral rites simple with cheaper and more convenient meal kits, especially with the pandemic and weak consumer demand.
According to recent data from the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, this year’s Lunar New Year Charye table is expected to cost an average of 310,259 won ($251). A simplified version of Charye table with 18 dishes is forecast to cost 129,449 won.
According to discount retail chain E-Mart, the sales of its ready-to-eat Peacock products (E-Mart’s store brand) increased 22 percent during Chuseok last year — the first holiday in Korea without any social distancing measures in place — compared to the year before. Ready-to-eat meals, known as home meal replacement (HMR) products, mean buyers don’t have to spend hours buying expensive ingredients and don’t require any preparation or cooking. E-mart’s sales of already-cooked namul, or seasoned vegetables and herbs, rose by 38.8 percent compared to the previous Chuseok holiday.
A total of 66.7 percent of people questioned for a recent survey by Incruit Corp. said they will simplify the meals on the Charye table for the Lunar New Year falling Jan. 21 to 24. The majority answered they will utilize ready-to-eat meals or meal kit products.
Large supermarkets and convenience stores are competitively marketing their ready-made products and offer Charye foods at a lower price for this year’s Lunar New Year holiday.
E-Mart is offering discounts and giving out gift certificates for those who purchase more than a certain amount on Peacock products of Charye table food dishes, such as japchae (stir-fried noodles), bindaetteok (mungbean pancakes), six kinds of namul and modum jeon (assorted Korean pancakes).
“Lately, the financial burden of Charye is growing bigger amid hiking prices,” a spokesperson for E-mart said. “Preparing the Charye table with the ready-to-eat products cost less than 100,000 won.”
The growing number of single-person households are also big customers for retail chains during the holiday season.
As of 2021, the number of single-person households was 7,166,000, or 33.4 percent of the total, according to Statistics Korea. The number single-person households have been rising steadily, from 20 percent in 2005 to 27.2 percent in 2015 and 30.2 percent in 2019.
According to E-Mart 24’s analysis of dosirak (packaged meals) sales during the Lunar New Year holiday last year, the sales at its branches located with high concentrations of single-person or two-person households were 61 percent of the total dosirak sales — compared to the sales of 18 percent at the branches situated in other types of residential areas.
As a growing number of Koreans are spending holidays like the upcoming Lunar New Year alone, retail chains are offering pre-packaged versions of traditional holiday meals targeting this demographic.
CU will release a Beef Bulgogi Tteokguk Hansang Dosirak, priced at 7,900 won, on Tuesday ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. It is a packaged meal offering various types of traditional holiday dishes along with tteokguk (rice cake soup).
Sales of its holiday dosirak have risen steadily every year. Over the past three years, its sales during the three-day holiday seasons rose by 12.6 percent in 2020, 15 percent in 2021, and 13.4 percent in 2022.
E-Mart 24 will release Tteok Manduguk (Tteokguk with dumplings) Dosirak (5,500 won) and Lunar New Year Dosirak (8,000 won) on Tuesday. The products include tteokguk, modum jeon, japchae and fresh vegetables, E-Mart 24 said.
GS25 is selling a Five-color Korean Dosirak Set, priced at 6,900 won, starting Tuesday. It consists of representative dishes of traditional holiday food, such as tteokguk, black rice with ginkgo nuts and bulgogi.
“Seeing the growing demand and interest in holiday dosirak, we have worked on the planning and development of the newest dosirak product 100 days before the release,” a spokesperson for GS25 said.
BY SEO JI-EUN, YOO JI-YOEN [[email protected]]