Korea’s stats: Nutra imports up 23%, complex nutrient products most popular, US top exporter

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea’s import of health functional foods was up 23.4 per cent last year. ©Getty Images
South Korea’s import of health functional foods was up 23.4 per cent last year. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea imports MFDS

South Korea’s import of health functional foods was up 23.4 per cent last year, higher than the three-year annual average of 21.4 per cent, with the US taking the top spot in product volumes.

So-called ‘complex nutrient products’, defined as products containing more than one type of vitamin and/or mineral, were the most imported products.

The data was released by South Korea’s Ministry of Drug and Food Safety (MFDS).

According to the report, one in three health functional foods sold in South Korea comes from overseas.

The country imported 19,825 tons of health functional foods last year, up 23.4 per cent from year 2019 of 16,066 tonnes. The volume imported in 2018 was 13,531 tonnes.

The lion share of the imports, 32.5 per cent, equivalent to 6,448 tonnes came from the US, followed by China (15.1 per cent), Germany (10.8 per cent), Canada (10.7 per cent), India (9.3 per cent), and Taiwan (3.1 per cent).

APAC’s nutraceutical powerhouse Australia only came in at 13th​ place, with imports of 1.3 per cent at 257 tonnes, while that of New Zealand was one per cent at 202 tonnes. 

Imports from other APAC countries, Indonesia and Singapore, were 0.6 per cent (112 tonnes) and 0.5 per cent (103 tonnes), taking the 18th​ and 19th​ place.

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Complex nutrient products, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), EPA and DHA, and protein were some of the most imported products.

Together with nutrient/functional complex products, these five categories accounted for 59 per cent of the total import volume.

“Recently, FOS and nutrient-functional complex products have rose to the top few imported items,”​ the MFDS said in the report.

Vitamin and minerals were the most imported product, accounting for 17.7 per cent (3,509 tons) of the total import volume.

Products containing FOS followed next, with 3,228 tons imported last year.

Notably, FOS was only ranked the 24th​ most imported product with 107 tons imported in 2018. This multiplied 15 times to 1,629 tons imported in 2019.

Nutrient/functional complex products also jumped from the 12th​ place in 2018 to the 4th​ place last year.

In contrast, the report noted that protein and calcium imports have been gradually decreasing in the past three years.

Consumer misperception

Some processed fruits and vegetables were wrongly recognised by consumers as health functional foods last year, the MFDS highlighted.

“Tart Cherry, which promotes sleep induction and increases immunity, and krill oil, which emphasizes efficacy in the prevention and treatment of diseases such as stroke, were caught as consumer deception, false, and hype, and administrative measures were taken,”​ the MFDS said.

The regulator last year flagged out​ krill oil products amid its rising popularity online and emphasised that krill oil was not yet approved as a health functional food.

Not long after, it introduced a one-year policy​ where all krill oil imports have to be proven safe, before they could be imported into the country.

Approved health functional foods in South Korea also come with a logo and information on the officially imported ones could be found online​. 

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