King’s Berry, a domestically-developed variety twice the size of average strawberries, is gaining popularity not only in Korea but also in international markets. Known for their sweet flavor, firmness, and beautiful shape, these premium “K-fruit” strawberries are becoming a favorite among overseas consumers. One such variety, Kuemsil, has been driving up Korea’s strawberry exports since its development in 2016. With its high sugar content and good storability, Kuemsil now accounts for around 70 percent of the total amount of strawberries shipped overseas.
According to Kim Yeon-gyoung, a senior staff member at the Korean Strawberry Export Integration Organization (K-Berry), Kuemsil is widely considered a high-quality product compared to other varieties. Korea’s strawberry export volume has been steadily increasing, reaching 4 million tons worth $58.6 million last year, nearly seven times the export revenue in 2013. The Southeast Asian region is the main export market for Korean strawberries, with Singapore being the largest importer. K-Berry reports that Korean strawberries have a market share of around 40 percent in Singapore, around 30 percent in Hong Kong, and 35 percent in Thailand.
In addition to Kuemsil, Korea is exporting a wide range of premium strawberries through varietal development, including Highberry, VitaBerry, Altaking, Snowberry, and King’s Berry. King’s Berry, in particular, stands out for its hand-filling size, growing twice as large as average strawberries. Snowberry, with its iconic pink color, is also gaining attention.
Korea, which used to pay royalty fees for overseas strawberry varieties, is now selling its domestically-developed varieties to other countries. Gyeongsangnam-do Agricultural Research & Extension Services, the developer of the Kuemsil variety, recently signed an export contract with a U.S. company to supply Kuemsil seedlings. Korea’s shine muscat, a sweet, seedless green grape variety, has also been driving up the country’s fresh food exports. Korea and China have become competitors in the global shine muscat market, as Japan failed to meet the registration deadline for trademarking the breed. Korean shine muscat grapes are gaining popularity, especially in Southeast Asia, thanks to their competitive price compared to Japanese products.
Asian pears, especially those from Korea, have been a steady seller in overseas markets, with the United States being the biggest importer. Korean pear exports reached 26,276 tons worth $74.4 million last year. Southeast Asian countries, led by Vietnam, are the biggest market for K-fruits in general, thanks to the surging popularity of K-culture and the rapid growth in household income in the region.
Though there is growing demand for Korean agricultural products, there are challenges to tackle. Korea’s food exports are still mainly driven by processed food products instead of fresh products. To gain bigger traction in international markets, there is a need for continuous support and expanded government subsidies for domestically-produced agricultural products. Additionally, there is a challenge of knock-off low-quality products confusing consumers. To prevent this, the KPEC distributes anti-counterfeit stickers and K-grape has developed anti-counterfeit wrapping material.
Overall, Korean fruits, especially strawberries, shine muscat grapes, and Asian pears, are gaining popularity in international markets due to their high quality, distinctive flavor, and competitive prices. With continuous support and efforts to overcome challenges, Korean agricultural exports have the potential to become even more successful on a global scale.