By Rachel Lee
The popularity of lunchboxes is on the rise as consumers seek ways to save money amid the continuing economic downturn.
Market experts estimate the size of the country's market for lunchboxes, called dosirak in Korean, this year alone stands at around 2 trillion won ($1.76 billion), and domestic lunchbox brands have led market growth over the last few years.
"Each year, the number of lunchboxes sold reached about 1 trillion and the market has grown by an average 40 percent," said a CU spokesman. CU, run by BGF Retail, is one of the country's largest convenience store franchises along with 7-Eleven and GS 25.
According to the firm, lunchbox sales have continuously gone up since 2009; by 42.4 percent and 43.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
More than half of the sales are to young adults in their 20s and 30s (54.1 percent), followed by middle-aged residents (30.5 percent) and middle and high school students (7.3 percent).
"About 24 percent of the total consumption is at lunch time, and 17 percent at night time," said the spokesman.
CU's stir-fried pork and barbecued beef lunchboxes, each sold for 2,500 won, are the hit sellers among office workers and single households.
Its Double Big Weekday Meal, priced at 3,600 won, has become popular for its six different side dishes, which vary day to day.
"I first tried a lunchbox about two years ago and unlike I expected from the low price, I was surprised that the quality of food in the lunchbox was so much better," said a 35-year-old office worker in Seoul.
"But I think these days, an increasing number of people are seeking good value for money as they try to save money any way they can, and a lunchbox is one of the options for sure." Popular takeaway brand Hansot Dosirak, first opened in 1993, offers 14 different lunchbox menus at affordable prices that range from 1,700 won to 6,000 won.
The company currently has 700 stores nationwide and has attracted office worker's attention in particular for its low price and convenience. Bon Dosirak, which entered the market in 2009, already has more than 100 stores nationwide.