Singapore kaya brand is market leader in South Korea

A visitor tasting coconut coffee at Owl's booth at the Asean Trade Fair held in Seoul, South Korea, last week.
A visitor tasting coconut coffee at Owl's booth at the Asean Trade Fair held in Seoul, South Korea, last week.ST PHOTO: CHANG MAY CHOON

A Singapore kaya brand is now the market leader in South Korea, thanks to a Korean man's love for kaya toast, and a 61-year-old home-grown company which produces unique coconut coffee has also found a niche here.

These food companies and eight others from the Lion City participated in the annual Asean Trade Fair held in Seoul recently, as South Korea pushes to boost trade and cooperation with South-east Asia.

As more South Koreans travel to the Asean nations, business opportunities have grown for Singapore's food and beverage companies.

Koka noodles, for example, plans to market its healthier no-MSG, low-fat, and whole-grain options, while restaurant chain The Soup Spoon hopes to export its premium soups here. Both companies promoted their products for the first time at the trade fair held in a Coex exhibition hall in upscale Gangnam district last week.

Ms Anna Lim, executive director of The Soup Spoon, told The Sunday Times that the company was targetting South Korea's growing number of single households and also people with no time to cook.

She said the response at the trade fair was "pretty good".

There are no figures available for the export of Singapore food to South Korea. But the two countries are close trading partners with bilateral trade reaching US$19.2 billion (S$26 billion) last year, 11 years after a free trade deal was implemented.

Mr Tang Kok Min from IE Singapore's Seoul office said Koreans are "starting to welcome foreign brands and culture", and Korean companies are also "getting more receptive to foreign partnerships as they seek to grow their businesses".

He said IE Singapore plays a key role in connecting Singapore companies to suitable partners in Korea, conducting seminars on how to enter the market and providing financial support to those interested.

"South Korea lacks eateries that serve South-east Asian cuisine. Hence DIY products (to recreate) dishes from Singapore are appealing to Korean consumers," he added.


A small but growing number of Singapore food companies have already managed to break into South Korea, with Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa (barbecued meat), Prima Taste sauces and restaurant Crystal Jade leading the way.

Coffee companies Owl and Gold Kili have also won coveted spots on supermarket shelves here.

A representative from Owl told The Sunday Times its most popular product was coconut coffee, which accounts for 40 per cent of their sales. "The Korean market is very hard to penetrate because local brands like Maxim are very strong. But our special flavours have found a niche market here and are doing very well. Our coconut coffee has a sweet and unique fragrance that the Koreans like," he said.

Singapore kaya has also become popular, after K-pop singer Dasom - from disbanded girl group, Sistar - made kaya toast on the variety show, Happy Together, in 2013.

Mr Rak Namkung, who first imported Sing Kee Kaya into South Korea in 2006, said he sold 5,000 bottles in 1 1/2 hours after the show aired.

He fell in love with kaya toast 11 years ago when he stayed in Singapore to learn English.

The brand is now a market leader here and counts cafes and bakeries including the major chain, Tous Les Jours, among its many customers.

"Nobody knew about kaya when I first brought it in, but I persisted in promoting it. Now we are doing well and our sales is growing 10 per cent every year," said Mr Namkung.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore kaya brand is market leader in South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe