S.Korea facing kimchi crisis banks on cabbage storage


Location: Cheongju, South Korea

These kimchi makers in South Korea are feeling the pinch.

Faced with stiff competition from China's cheaper offerings...

and a climate change induced shortage of cabbages...

many are struggling to produce the spicy pickled side dish so central to Korean identity.

Such is the sense of crisis, that the government is stepping in to store cabbages and supply the industry at affordable rates

For Kimchi makers, like Ahn Ik-jin, the help can't come soon enough.

Storage units at his factory have been all but emptied

forcing him to source inferior-quality cabbages to keep production going.

He's had to increase his prices by two-thirds to cope with rising costs.

[Ahn Ik-jin, CEO, Cheongone Organic]

"(Korean peninsula) has changed to a subtropical climate, which has caused great temperature differences between day and night, damaging cabbages in spring. Cabbages in May to June have been damaged, and the effect lasted even till July and August. We used to produce 16.5 tons (of kimchi) a day but now we are only producing 11 tons or less."

To help boost kimchi production, the government recently laid out plans to build two massive cabbage storage facilities, equivalent to the size of three football fields.

They will be able to store 11,000 tons of cabbages and pickle 55 tons of cabbages daily.

The construction is expected to cost taxpayers $40 million and is due to be completed in 2025.

[Lim Jeung-guen, Deputy Director, Agricultural Ministry's Food Industry Promotion Division]

"We are planning to put 58 billion won ($40 million) into constructing two kimchi ingredient supply facilities in the country to help small kimchi making companies and those suffering from a lack of storage space. The project includes building storage which can store 11,000 tons of cabbage and a facility that can make 55 tons of salted cabbages."

Korean kimchi makers are hoping the government's plan will at least prevent home-grown producers from losing further ground against China.

Chinese imports, often priced at about a third of locally made kimchi, have surged over the past two decades..

They now account for 40% of the domestic market for commercially made kimchi.

Concern is also growing that the cabbage shortage will also torpedo the tradition of 'Kimjang' -

the making and sharing of kimchi among families, friends and communities.

One supermarket shopper said the prices of raw ingredients were too high.

[Kim Sook-Kyung, 72-year-old customer]

"I normally make kimchi myself, but the cost of ingredients has gone up so much. There's no difference between the price of homemade kimchi and ready-made kimchi. So, I bought packages of kimchi today. It feels like 20-30 percent of ingredient prices are up compared to the past."