Monday, October 24, 2005
The Great American Export
Who woulda guessed?
Spam has become high-class Seoul food: South Koreans can't get enough
Los Angeles Times
Oct. 23, 2005 12:00 AM
SEOUL, South Korea - Stroll into an expensive department store and walk straight past the $180 watermelon with a ribbon twirled just so around its stem. Don't bother with the tea in a butterfly-shaped tin for $153, or with the gift boxes of Belgian chocolates or French cheeses.
If you're looking for a gift that bespeaks elegance and taste, you might try Spam. While it might be the subject of satire in the United States, in South Korea it is positively classy. With $136 million in sales, South Korea is the largest market in the world outside the United States for Spam. But here, the pink luncheon meat with its gelatinous shell is deemed too nice to buy for oneself, and 40 percent of the Spam sold here is for gifts.
Especially during the holidays, you can see the blue-and-yellow cans neatly stacked in the aisles of the better stores. Koreans are nearly as passionate about packaging as the Japanese, so the Spam often comes wrapped in boxed sets.
"Spam really is a luxury item," said Han Geun-rae, 43, an impeccably dressed fashion buyer who was loading gift boxes of Spam into a cart at Shinseyge department store in advance of the recent Chusok holiday.
Chusok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, the biggest gift-giving occasion of the year here. On this one holiday alone, Korean distributor CJ Corp. estimates, 8 million cans change hands.