Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Korea: smoothie operators


The Wall Street Journal thinks that smoothies and Paris Baguette may be the next ripples in the ubiquitous Korean Wave.
A South Korean cultural wave is sweeping the world, with interest surging in areas ranging from the country’s pop music to cosmetics to television dramas. Now, smoothies could be next.

At least that is what Standard Chartered’s private-equity unit is banking on with a $45.5 million joint investment with Korea’s National Pension Service for a 48% stake in Smoothies Korea.

The Korean fruit-blended beverage maker is trying to position itself as a healthful Starbucks-like competitor in the world of smoothies. Its 100 company-owned and franchised stores tap into the country’s café craze while offering a healthy alternative to coffee and shunning sugar as a sweetener, said Charles Huh, managing director of Standard Chartered Private Equity’s Korean arm.

The plan is to replicate the café approach in the U.S., where grab-and-go is currently the norm, he said.

As part of its new strategy, Smoothies Korea will buy out the American company behind the Korean franchises, New Orleans-based Smoothie King, which began in 1987 and has 529 stories in the U.S. Its owners have agreed to sell.

The Korean company also intends to open stores in China and Singapore, both new markets.

Smoothies Korea hopes to follow the success of other Korean food and beverage brands that have gone overseas, such as Paris Baguette, a bakery and coffee chain with branches in the U.S., China and Singapore, and Red Mango, a frozen yogurt and smoothie chain with a presence in the U.S., Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
I wonder if Smoothies Korea will entice Americans with ad campaigns like the full backside nude butts in the pre-Yuna Kim "be white" advertising campaign for Smoothie King (am I the only one who remembers that?).

And did someone say Red Mango? Tee hee.



  1. I dunno, smoothies are pretty much everywhere in the US. When McDonald's starts selling a product, it's no longer a secret. Finding real fruit smoothies, though (in spite of what the ads say, McDonald's smoothies come from syrup) is a little harder, but I can think of a half-dozen places within moderate walking distance that sell them just in this area of Pittsburgh. I'm sure they are more and more common in NY, DC, LA, and pretty much everywhere else.

    1. You definitely make a valid point, Brian. There are plenty of smoothies out there but, perhaps, like coffee shops, people will search out one of quality.

      Now, I'm not so sure that Smoothie King under Korean or American management will be/was that quality product, but it's worth a shot. And if they can take advantage of their position to sell some wholesome things that are more in line with Korean tastes, that just might work. Perhaps some chuk (죽) or even kimbap, or 회덮밥.

      Hope to see an update at your blog from time to time, Brian. :)

    2. Funny about Kyochon Chicken (which I admit I haven't eaten in five years, except for a sample at a mall in Orange County). The day I left for Korea, I had breakfast at a typical Hawaii-style pancake and waffle place in the Honolulu district of Kalihi descriptively called Pancakes & Waffles, where I noticed "Korean-style chicken" on the menu.

      Before I asked, I figured it was either chicken that had been supercharged with red pepper (which would have been a pedestrian use of "Korean") OR a chicken with sweet and crispy skin (a use of "Korean" by someone who'd actually been to Korean chicken houses).

      It turned out to be the latter. My point (and I do have one) is that, at least in Hawaii, "Korean chicken" like you might find at Kyochon is associated with a certain kind of lightly sweet taste that deviates from the Colonel's secret recipe and what-not.

      Still, your point is valid: Kyochon Chicken is not exactly a novel new entity for the American palate to try.

  2. Again, we're spreading Korean culture through America with western products. This reeks of the announcement a few years ago when the gov't was pumping up the Korean Wave(tm) by helping out Kyochon Chicken, Kraze Burger, and Mr. Pizza.

    Why do the Korean elite hate their own culture so much?

    1. I don't think Korean elite hate their own culture so much as it's been engrained in them that it is too out there and too different to be accepted by the Western mainstream. And for that, I put much of the blame on many of the Westerners who were in Korea in the 1990s and were fond of saying just that.

      No joke, that was the norm in terms of what you'd hear: "Americans would never eat this because it's too spicy/pungent/smelly/gritty/unpronouncable." "Americans don't care about Korea; it's an afterthought when they think of Japan or China," etc.

      Yes, I heard this stuff over and over and over again, and I know that the "Korean elite" did as well. Even a lot of kyopos would say this kind of stuff. It was almost like a badge of honor to bash the Korean culture as never-good-enough-for-prime-time.

      So when I see people thinking that Korean stuff needs to be Americanized or Westernized for the non-Korean palate (or in this case by slightly Koreanizing a Western product), while it makes me a little sad, it surprises me not in the least.

    2. It's not a matter of "hating their own culture" as you dismissively state, but just focusing on the money.

  3. Thanks, kushibo. (I can't get the reply button under your comment to work). I'm tempted from time to time to post on BiJ, but it's much better to keep quiet. Like I said earlier, I don't want to end up like a 58-year-old rock star who keeps touring 30 years after being relevant. (The Who, Jefferson Starship, and Stevie Nicks are still touring in 2012, to name just a few). I have another little side project that keeps me busy now, anyway.

    Regarding chicken, I guess my memory is just getting hazy. I loved Nene Chicken best of all, but I can't quite remember how the taste was any different than what we can get here in the US. What really made "Korean" chicken stand out was that it was cheap, plentiful, and made for delivery. I'd eat a lot more of it in Pittsburgh if I could have it delivered any time of day or night.

    I had Kyochon a few times in Korea, and it always tasted like charcoal. It seems to be the most popular choice among expats in Korea, so maybe I just had bad luck.

    1. I also have trouble with the REPLY button sometimes. I think it's a Blogger issue.

      Yeah, The Who is still touring long after young kids will say their name while asking their parents/grandparents who they are without any sense of irony: "The who?"

      But, if you were putting up a post from time to time about something you were genuinely interested in, and not just doing it for the sake of doing it, I don't think you would come across as an aging rocker.

      As for Kyochon, I remember them being quite all right. You may have gotten a bad batch (or three). The delivery place near my apartment was pretty good.

      When I had American students in Korea, some of them would rave about Korean fried chicken, its price, its availability, but also its different taste (its sweetness).

      Anyway, I have to say about Nene Chicken... maybe I didn't notice that chain before, but someone from Hawaii would be, well, a bit mortified by the name. The nene is the state bird of Hawaii and a precious entity that no one would ever wanted associated with food. :)

  4. Well, the Korean brands do offer something different in terms of service and quality. That's why Red Mango was able to take off with frozen yogurt even after there were so many ice cream stores in the U.S. People are tired of the same old thing. And if a market is "glutted", they think you can't succeed. But if you bring something vastly different in terms of the consumer experience, you can create buzz and do well. If you do anything much better than how it is done now, then people will respond even if it's something like frozen yogurt or pizza. Korean brands can be awesome like that.

    1. I agree with everything you're saying here. Korean corporations or entrepreneurs have often succeeded where it appeared no one thought success possible, and I think that bodes well for the ventures described in the article.

      But I also see ZenKimchi's point, that is this really promoting anything Korean other than bottom line? Still, if the experience can make, say Koba or Nolbu work in the US, maybe it's okay.

    2. They are promoting Korean businesses. It's not really about the Korean Wave in terms of culture, but business.


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