South Koreans’ favourite fish is mackerel on weekdays, weekends and in the restaurant, which makes it the king of seafood in the country.

South Korea is one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting seafood markets, with substantial potential for Norwegian seafood. Fresh Norwegian salmon has entered the market in recent years and has completely taken over the raw category. South Korea is the largest market for live Norwegian king crab. The country is home to over 50 million seafood lovers with strong purchasing power, who will soon know about Norwegian seafood.

Tenfold increase since 2008

Norwegian Seafood is thriving in South Korea; in a short period of time, it has gone from being a peripheral seafood market to becoming our second largest in Asia. Since 2008, the value of Norwegian seafood exports has increased nearly tenfold, from NOK 240 million to NOK 2.3 billion. Over the same period, volumes have increased by more than 550%. The preference for Norwegian seafood is also high – almost equal to domestic seafood production, which is unique.



Photographer: NSC

Increasing consumption of seafood

In South Korea, more seafood is consumed than anywhere else in the world, with over 58 kilos per person per year. It is also one of the countries in the world where the consumption of seafood is increasing, with a 10% increase expected by 2025 Three in four Koreans think that seafood is the most important source of protein. Health benefits and taste are the most common reasons cited for choosing it as a source of protein. Mackerel and Atlantic salmon score highly here and mackerel is also considered a good option. In addition, we see that seafood is eaten more often than other sources of protein. Over half of the 45-65 age group eats seafood one to several times a week. For those between the ages of 20-34, only one in three do the same.


Photographer: NSC

Mackerel – the king of seafood

Mackerel is the national fish in South Korea and Norwegian mackerel is highly preferred and an integral part of everyday life. Norwegian mackerel is in a unique position, with 93% of the import market. It is preferred in blind tests and is sold in many retail channels including online and TV home shopping. No other species comes close as the people’s preferred everyday seafood. Mackerel also comes out on top as people’s preferred dish for a weekend meal or in a restaurant.

Mackerel is the king of seafood in South Korea – no other species for human consumption can compete.

Putting aside the dominance of mackerel for a moment, octopus and hairtail (beltfish) are used as alternatives for occasions such as everyday dinner and in restaurants. Like in Japan, king crab is a food for celebrations or other special occasions.

Salmon consumption is growing

Salmon is a relatively new species in the South Korean market but it has seen huge growth in demand. 87% of the imported salmon in 2017 was Atlantic salmon, and 81% of it came from Norway.

South Korea is a fresh market and Norwegian salmon dominates the category. Consumption of Norwegian salmon has seen incredible growth in recent years. In 2013, Norwegian fresh salmon accounted for 64% of all fresh salmon in South Korea. By 2017, the share was 92%. In the restaurant sector, buffet restaurants and Japanese sushi restaurants are driving the consumption of Norwegian salmon.

Consumers are fond of king crab in South Korea and it is very popular in restaurants. In recent years, there has been a trend in specialist crab restaurants, which could help explain a 40% increase in volume so far this year.



Photographer: NSC

Norwegian origin fish is in an excellent position

Eight in 10 Koreans think that country of origin is an important factor when choosing seafood. What makes Norwegian seafood unique in South Korea is the status Norway holds as a country of origin. The Korean people are equally positive about seafood from their own country , as well as Norway, when it comes to quality and the extent to which seafood is safe.

South Korean grocery chains have a wide range of high- quality products. For producers, it is not enough just to sell their product in the shop; they also have a repre- sentative who promotes and hands out samples, which is quite a common phenomenon in South Korea. Despite promotional efforts, in 83% of cases Korean consumers decide what to buy at least one day before going into the shop. On the other hand, 62% of single people say they are more likely to decide in the shop itself, when compared to married people. And since we also know that single person households are increasing in number, it is becoming increasingly important to influence the consumer within the shop environment itself.


Photographer: NSC

Developments in retail

The Korean market has seen frequent growth over the past decade. Today, there are four major hypermarket chains dominating the category with a combined market share of over 80%. The largest retailers have created their own sourcing departments and purchase directly from Norwegian suppliers. This contrasts with the fragmented retail market we see in Japan.

Some 46% of Korean seafood eaters say they purchase seafood in supermarkets and hypermarkets. In recent years, there has been little to no change in terms of where consumers buy their seafood. The exception has been e-commerce, which has grown sharply, and Planet Retail expects 18% growth in Asia, with South Korea in competition with China for the top place.

Virtual supermarkets

South Korea is an advanced country with online/ mobile services and good distribution systems for fresh products. Because of this, it has become much easier to buy fresh fish on the Internet. Today, 4% of consumers buy seafood online, while 1 in 4 people say they plan to do so within the next 12 months.

In 2011, Homeplus launched the world’s first virtual supermarket in a train station, decorating the walls with over 500 products plus their respective QR codes. Customers could then go around and scan the goods they wanted, which would then be sent home to them later that same day. The same year, the volume of e-commerce increased by 130% and today there are over 20 such virtual convenience stores in South Korea.

Even with a thriving e-commerce sector, quality fresh fish is available at a good price over the counter, which is the most important consideration for the consumer. Unlike Japan, there are no differences between age groups or genders in this area – everyone has the same preference.


Photographer: NSC

Healthy food and an active lifestyle

With an increasing focus on having a healthy lifestyle, one might have thought that the younger generation would be more concerned about health benefits and whether seafood was safe to eat. However, the survey shows the opposite. The older generation is most concerned with health benefits, with a total of 82% of over 50-year-olds citing it as important, compared to 62% among those aged 18-34. The older population is also more concerned with value for money and taste than the younger generation.