The latest data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) showed that the volume of health supplements and ingredients imported was up from 22,536 tons in 2021 to 27,045 tons last year.
The increase was largely driven by the imports of complex nutrients and individually approved ingredients.
Complex nutrients refer to vitamins, minerals that are already in the notified list for use in Health Functional Food (HFF). So far, 96 of nutrients and functional ingredients such as ginseng and red ginseng are in the notified list.
Last year, the volume of complex nutrients imported was up from 5,514 tons to 8,361 tons, an increase of 51.6 per cent.
Germany topped the list, contributing 59.2 per cent of the imports, followed by the US at 23.8 per cent, and Canada at 6.1 per cent.
On the other hand, individually recognised ingredients are not in the notified list and companies can only be use them after these materials have been reviewed by the MFDS.
The volume of these ingredients imported was up from 1,916 tons to 3,147 tons, an increase of 64.2 per cent.
Finland was top of the list, contributing 56.8 per cent of these imports. India was next with 15.5 per cent of the imports and Taiwan at 6.6 per cent.
The volume of health supplements and ingredients imported into South Korea has been consistently on the rise.
“The annual average import volume over the past five years has recorded a significant increase of 18.9 per cent,” the MFDS said in the report.
A reason is a greater awareness of health and wellbeing following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Overall, South Korea’s import of health supplements and ingredients was 0.1 per cent of the country’s entire food related imports in year 2022.
General foods with function claims driving imports
The increase in import of individually recognised ingredients was due to the implementation of the functional labelling system for general foods, according to the MFDS.
General foods were able to make functional claims on the product label since December 2020.
In this case, the product claims would need to be backed by scientific evidence and could only be manufactured in HACCP-certified facilities using GMP-manufactured functional ingredients.
To distinguish them from HFF, the products would need to state the statement “this is not a Health Functional Food” on the main display.
As of December 31 last year, 297 ingredients have been individually recognised by the MFDS, according to the ministry.
Trends are rapidly changing
Based on the import data, the MFDS noticed that trends in HFF are rapidly changing.
For instance, it pointed out that while the import of EPA/DHA had increased by 13.9 per cent to 2,851 tons, that of fructo-oligosaccharides had dropped by 24.3 per cent to 1,529 tons, which the MFDS said “indicated that trends in the Health Functional Food market are rapidly changing.”
Norway topped the list in terms of EPA/DHA imports, contributing 18.9 per cent of South Korea’s EPA/DHA imports. Canada and the US followed next at 17.5 per cent and 14.8 per cent respectively.
On the other hand, the bulk of fructo-oligosaccharides came from China at 59.2 per cent, followed by India at 29.8 per cent and Israel at 10.6 per cent.