Korean ginseng wades into global markets
An advertisement board shows the brand of the Korea Ginseng Corp. (KGC) at Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong. The three Chinese letters are Cheong-Kwan-Jang, the brand of KGC. / Courtesy of KGC
By Kim Tae-gyu
Chang Sung-eui keeps an eye on the work of her team members, who sort the best ginseng at the factory of the Korea Ginseng Corp. (KGC), situated in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province.
It’s a tricky job that requires several years’ experience as well as knowhow of dealing with special facilities. For Chang who oversees 13 team members it is not a tall task.
``We take into account several facts such as weight and appearance when sorting ginseng. Plus, we need to carry out a tissue inspection to grade them correctly. That is the difficult part,’’ said Chang who has worked at the factory since 1980.
``We hold red ginseng against the light in order to look into the internal structure. It definitely takes experience and our members do not lack it. In my view, that is part of the reason why clients demonstrate trust in our classification sold under the brand of Cheong-Kwan-Jang.’’
Based on three processes of appearance screening and weight grading on top of the tissue inspection, ginseng is categorized into four groups of Heaven, Earth, Good and Cut, all with different price tags.
Chang, who has headed the team for over a decade, is just one example of unrivaled experts at the state-of-the-art KGC factory, the world’s oldest and largest ginseng plant as the birth place of Cheong-Kwan-Jang.
``Approximately 1,000 veterans, mostly females, work the Buyeo production lines. Many of them start at the factory in their early 20s to serve KGC for a few decades,’’ said Won Sung-hee, director at the firm’s PR department.
``Such experienced employees are one of the major secrets lurking beneath the popularity and the competitive advantage of Cheong-Kwan-Jang products together with the firm’s century-old traditions.’’
The legacy of KGC dates back to the late 19th century when the nation was ruled by King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) ― Ginseng Management Division was established in 1899.
The division set up inside the royal palace monopolized the Korean red ginseng and worked as the exclusive consignment distributor to export the valued root to China through Shanghai.
KGC has been representative of Korean ginseng, which dates back thousands of years.
In the 1940s, privately produced red ginseng, as well as forgeries, was prevalent across the country.
To distinguish the legitimate products of KGC, then the Bureau of Monopoly, it has come up with the mark of Cheong-Kwan-Jang, which means the government’s approval in Korean, on the label of its products.
Cheong-Kwan-Jang has been recognized as an equivalent of high-quality Korean ginseng. The famous red sticker including the Cheong-Kwan-Jang emblem started being attached to exports in 1963 and used domestically starting in 1995.
In 2004, KGC launched the Cheong-Kwan-Jang franchise and there are around 850 sales outlets for the product in Korea and 86 more in nine countries across the world.
KGC is trying to duplicate its huge success on the global scene through proactively wading into offshore markets like China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States to name but a few.
The outfit has already chalked up substantive results in the international markets by advancing into around 60 countries and its outbound foray has continued to accelerate of late.
Last year, KGC racked up a total of 745.7 billion won in sales and around 10 percent of them, or $6.3 million, were achieved outside of the nation. The ratio is expected to rise at a fast pace down the road ― it aims to increase the global turnover to $7 million this year and $10 million by 2015.
Toward that end, the company put forth various efforts including vehement research geared toward developing tailor-made products, which can be woven into the cultural fabrics of other nations.
Its research center boasts of some 100 top Ph.D. researchers and the firm makes it a rule to channel more than 2 percent of its annual sales into research and development (R&D).
The Daejeon-based company spent up to 15 billion won in R&D last year alone.
Lee Saeng-jae, who leads the research on ginseng, said that the R&D center is the cornerstone asset in the company’s global initiative.
``We have substantially beefed up research capabilities over the past several years. We try to improve the quality of Korea ginseng products, which are already second to none on this planet,’’ said the KGC lifer who joined the entity in 1973.
``First of all, we need to come up with products abiding by the different regulations of each country. In addition, we are required to understand different tastes and flavors loved by each nation for success. We are working on those.’’
KGC CEO Kim Yong-cheol also reiterated that the outfit will make a brisk entrance into the global market through customized products equipped with the local relevance for targeted countries.
``It is time for KGC to revitalize its global health care business based on a customer-oriented approach, and the spirit of challenge and creativity to further contribute to the health of mankind,’’ said Kim who took the reins of the firm earlier this year.
``We believe it is our duty and lifetime mission to safeguard the health of humankind and seek to prove the excellence of Cheong-Kwan-Jang as we continue to invest in our overseas business and develop value-added products tailored to each country’s particular needs.’’
He added that KGC will keep building brand prestige with ginseng and other new products to become a total global health care enterprise.
``Ginseng is truly a gift from God. KGC is devoted to sharing that gift, promoting human health and well-being. As the global leader, we dream of another century well-founded on ginseng.’’
``We will also focus aggressively on building a future growth engine of health food, health care and other innovative businesses.’’