Alternatives for cash-strapped shoppers range from oddly-shaped produce to unsold dishes
By Ko Dong-hwan
Kim Young-mi, a 40-year-old housewife in Seoul, picks up a carrot from the vegetable aisle inside a local supermarket. Unlike “usual” carrots that are long and smooth on the surface, this particular carrot is rather irregular and oddly shaped. She looks at the price of a bundle of similarly “ugly” carrots that are packed inside a plastic bag and finds that they are almost 30 percent cheaper than the more uniform ones.
“It was just the ugliness that stood out,” Kim told The Korea Times. “Everything else appeared perfectly normal. So I grabbed a bag.”
Park Chul-min, a 36-year-old white-collar worker from Busan who regularly drinks coffee after lunch, is growing increasingly concerned about how much he spends on caffeinated beverages amid rising food prices.
Park, concludes that anything more than 4,000 won ($3.00) for a cup of coffee is overpriced and “shouldn’t be tolerated.” So he has found an alternative.
“Instead of brands like Starbucks, I visit convenience stores nowadays,” said Park. “Coffee is available for less than 2,000 won ($1.50), which is less than half of what I usually paid.”
To cater to an increasing number of local Koreans concerned with rising prices, the local retail sector is starting to introduce new channels for products at cheaper prices. Ranging from vegetables to fruit, coffee, precooked meals and liquor, the variety of options for those keen to save a penny or two has expanded.
These money-savers have emerged as the country is experiencing multiple trends that are stoking inflation. A series of statutory holidays around Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day continue from later this week until next week and family gatherings are expected nationwide, spiking demand for produce. The holiday period, therefore, is contributing to product prices increase at the same time. Rising oil prices have not only contributed to shipment costs for retailers but also to the delivery of food.
To help shoppers tackle these concerns, supermarkets have begun selling oddly shaped produce at lower prices.
Motnany Market, an online store that sells farm produce with odd shapes, sells its products with a 20 to 30 percent discount, and has seen its sales jump eightfold from last January when it was launched.
It has seen a particular spike in the sales of apples, one of the items that has gone up in price the most. The store sold a box of apples weighing 5 kilograms for 28,000 won ― while the same product would generally retail at 35,000 to 40,000 won.
Oddly shaped potatoes and sweet potatoes that were sold for 20 to 30 percent less at Lotte Mart, a major retail franchise, saw their sales jump more than 70 percent compared to the previous year.
The same trend is evident in the country’s major convenience stores and online shopping platforms as well. Weirdly-shaped farm produce is available with a 30 to 40 percent discount at CU, a major convenience store franchise. In fact, it has sold more than 10 tons of produce in the past three months.
Over 60 tons of apples sustained damage from a recent hailstorm but have started being sold at Coupang, a major online shopping platform, with a 13 percent discount for a limited time.
The lower pricing has also been extended to liquor. Last May, CU launched a new 1,000 won rice wine. An official told The Korea Times that it has sold 450,000 bottles as of this month. “We launched Seomin Beer, another low-priced liquor, on Sept. 19. It is 1,500 won. In three days, it sold over 30,000 bottles,” the official said.
Paris Baguette, a major bakery franchise, launched a specialty coffee called Cafe Adagio Signature for 990 won earlier this month. The company said it was a special two-week event for consumers amid the high food prices.
“For two weeks, the bakeries altogether sold more than 2 million cups,” an official from the company told The Korea Times after the event wrapped up on Sept. 21. “We have successfully promoted our signature coffee through this event.”
Additionally, another money-saving option is available for consumers, at most supermarkets, soon to pass expiry precooked meals are offered at cheaper prices.