The Korea Herald


Samyang Roundsquare aims to lead future K-food culture

Third-generation scion plays key role in big growth push

By Song Jung-hyun

Published : Nov. 12, 2023 - 13:55

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Jeffrey Chun, chief strategy officer of Samyang Roundsquare, speaks at the 60th-anniversary ceremony of the Samyang Ramyeon brand held in Seoul on Sept. 14. (Samyang Roundsquare) Jeffrey Chun, chief strategy officer of Samyang Roundsquare, speaks at the 60th-anniversary ceremony of the Samyang Ramyeon brand held in Seoul on Sept. 14. (Samyang Roundsquare)

South Korean food giant Samyang Roundsquare, formerly known as Samyang Foods Group, has been rapidly expanding its global presence with the soaring popularity of its bestselling spicy ramyeon products.

Over the past decade, its flagship Buldak Ramyeon has established itself as a leading Korean brand, gaining footholds in a total of 95 countries.

Since the export of Buldak series came into full swing in 2016, Samyang’s earnings have also seen a surge. The company posted 909 billion won ($690 million) in sales last year, up 153 percent from 359.3 billion won in 2016. The company expects sales to hit the 1 trillion won mark this year.

As global sales now make up almost 70 percent of its total sales, overseas branches, such as those in China and the US, are increasingly playing a bigger role in the company’s expansion.

Its Chinese branch reported 680 million yuan ($93.2 million) in sales last year, accounting for 25 percent of the company’s global sales. In the first half of this year alone, its sales exceeded 370 million yuan.

More than 100 employees are working at the Chinese branch to be deployed in 13 of the nation's provinces.

The company also established Samyang America in 2021. The US unit’s sales also soared more than 90 percent to $49.8 million in the first six months of this year compared to a year ago. The Buldak brand, in particular, has started selling at large supermarket chains, including Walmart in January last year and Costco in June this year.

Samyang plans to expand its investment in the US as it hires more employees locally and carries out more diverse sales and marketing activities.

Europe and Japan are also key markets for growth, posting 53.7 billion won and 11.4 billion won in sales, respectively, last year. In May last year, the company set up its fourth overseas branch in Indonesia.

Spicy Buldak Series (Samyang Roundsquare) Spicy Buldak Series (Samyang Roundsquare)

“The global success of Buldak can be seen as stemming from the popularization of the Fire Noodle Challenge, a gamification of consuming our spicy noodles,” an official from Samyang Roundsquare said.

“Initiated in 2014 by an internationally popular YouTuber Korean Englishman, Fire Noodle Challenge spread quickly, becoming a form of entertainment culture on a global stage.”

This trend became more entrenched from 2019 onwards with the outbreak of COVID-19 as more people started watching Korean mukbang to weather out the lockdown period.

“Becoming known as a beloved food of popular K-pop idols such as members of Blackpink and BTS further contributed to our growth trajectory,” the official added.

Calling the latest food trend “EATertainment,” Samyang said that it is betting big on food science and technology for its ramyeon products to serve as a cultural medium to spearhead the future K-food industry.

At the center of the latest big push is Jeffrey Chun, the company’s chief strategy officer and the third-generation scion of late Samyang founder Chun Chung-yoon.

Chun, who studied philosophy at Columbia University, played a leading role in carrying out the company’s rebranding in July and other marketing projects for key ramyeon products. He made his public debut in September when the company unveiled its new vision for growth.

"We take great pride in having turned our ramyeon products into key cultural export items,” Chun said during the event. “Going forward, we aim to lead the future dietary culture by developing brand-new ramyeon products such as those using plant-based protein or microbiomes.”