The Korean Agro-Trade Centre (aT Center) opened its Abu Dhabi branch earlier this year, initially with four staff members, but with plans to expand, according to at Center Abu Dhabi director Myung-Gu Seo. He said there was also the possibility of regional expansion.
“As of now, our Abu Dhabi branch office is in charge of the Middle East market, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the MENA region. If there is enough demand and fast growth, we will look at opening other offices in the region,” said Seo.
“The Halal food market has been growing fast recently, and the mutual relationship between Korea and the Middle East is strong. As a government company, aT is not selling Korean food, we’re just promoting Korean food in the Middle East – we are planning to promote Korean food export sales, to grow 10% a year,” he added.
K-pop and TV to boost food
Seo said one initiative was to use the growing visibility and popularity of Korean culture – particularly K-pop (Korean pop music) to help promote Korean food: “Compared to Korean music, Korean food is not very well known.”
Recently aT Center has also aimed to leverage Korean television dramas popular in the Middle East, including A Jewel in the Palace, Jumong and Emperor of the Sea, in order to boost trade. But along with pop-culture influencers, the centre is also planning more direct promotion of Korean food.
“In Abu Dhabi, under the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, a Korean cultural centre is opening – there’s going to be Korean cooking classes, so through that class we will advertise Korean food in this region, and help them understand Korean food,” said Seo.
Six firms get Halal status
Food trade between Korea and the Middle East received a boost last year, when Korea signed a memorandum of understanding over Halal trade with the UAE, and announced its intention to double its Halal food exports by 2017. Following that initiative, six Korean firms have now received Halal certification from the UAE’s Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology: Seoul Milk, Daesang, Jinju National Gardening Agricultural Cooperative Federation, the Punggi Ginseng Cooperative Association, Daesang FNF. and DK Foods.
Seo acknowledged there was sometimes a cultural difference between Korean food and Halal requirements, but said progress was being made: “Getting Halal accreditation is not hard, but there is a gap, in terms of Korean food in the Halal market. The key players in the Korean food industry are aware of this, and are preparing to adapt – they are still working on this.”