Updated Country Market Profiles for South Korea and Japan Show Increase in Opportunities for U.S. Exporters

Our online Country Market Profiles have been updated with the newest data for 2018! Here is a quick overview of the highlights for the foreign markets of South Korea and Japan.

“I think it is important for people that are new to market to get a feel for the marketplace, so if you can actually physically come over to a market and see what’s going on first hand, it gives you a sense of what the buyers and the people are interested in.” – Jeff McNeill – In-Market Representative (IMR) for Japan.

There is no better way to fully understand a foreign market than by travelling there yourself and experiencing it first-hand.  One of the most popular programs that Food Export – Midwest and Food Export – Northeast offers to U.S. suppliers is what’s called a Focused Trade Mission.

A Focused Trade Mission is a chance for a U.S. supplier to travel to a foreign market and experience it in person.  Each mission varies when it comes to specific activities but a typical Trade Mission might involve a Market Briefing from an IMR and/or the USDA FAS post for that country, a retail tour of local markets and grocery stores, and one-on-one meetings with pre-screened qualified foreign buyers.

This November we have a specialized Focused Trade Mission available for companies to participate in.  We will be leading companies on a joint mission to South Korea and then Japan.  That’s right, one trip, two countries, and a discount! Below is some of the most up to date information we have about these two markets to help you determine if this Trade Mission would be a good fit for your company.

South Korea

South Korea - Retail Tour South Korea - Retail Tour 1
G17KAJ Meetings Conrad Hotel in Yoido, Seoul 1  Buyer Meetings

South Korea relies heavily on imports to fulfill its food and agricultural needs.

The entire country is about the size of the state of Indiana and over 70% of its area is mountainous terrain, which is unsuitable for commercial farming, of the limited farm land available most of it is exclusively dedicated to rice production.

In 2017 the U.S. remained the leading exporter of food and agricultural products to Korea with 25% market share. Korean consumers continue to demand better value, quality and diversity in their product choices, and American products continue to lead the expansion effort.

A significant advantage to exporting to South Korea is the Korean-United States Free Trade Agreement, which was implemented in 2012.  That coupled with the on-going recovery of the Korean economy, is expected to generate greater export opportunities for American products in Korea in 2018 and 2019.

Imports of American consumer oriented food products to Korea in 2017
$3.8 Billion – 12% increase from 2016, and a record high
Korea is ranked #5 as an export destination for consumer oriented food products.

Imports of American processed food products to Korea in 2017
 $1.9 Billion – 10% increase from 2016
Korea is currently the 4th largest market for U.S. process foods.

Free Trade Agreement

Yes, you can find out specifics of the agreement here.

Consumption Trends

Products and businesses that offer good value, high quality, health/nutritional benefits, new taste, and convenience are showing strong growth in the market due to on-going socio-economic shifts including the rise of the affluent customer group.

Advantages of Exporting to South Korea

  • Emerging market where new ideas and trends are eagerly tried and accepted
  • Local processing, retail, and food service industries continue to expand
  • Consumers generate more diversified and sophisticated demand for food as their income level continues to rise
  • Depends heavily on imports to satisfy its food and agricultural needs
  • Consumers maintain strong attention to new international food and consumption trends as they are further exposed to foreign food culture
  • Consumers pay extra attention to the value, quality and safety of food that they consume
  • Many customers recognize the United States as a trusted origin of quality agricultural products
  • Implementation of the Korean-US Free Trade Agreement generates new opportunities for American suppliers by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Best Product Prospects:

The outlook for American food exports to the Korean retail sector is excellent for a wide range of products, including:

  • Beef, pork and poultry
  • Seafood
  • Processed vegetables
  • Fresh and processed fruits
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products
  • Juices
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Condiments and sauces
  • Processed organic foods
  • Bakery goods
  • Snacks
  • Confectioneries

Continue Your Export Education

Want to learn more about South Korea?  We have two recorded webinars to help you further your market education!

What’s New In Korea: Market Updates and Consumer Trends
The Impact of the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement


  FTM Japan 1 FTM Japan 2
  FTM Japan 5 FTM Japan 3

Japan is one of the most exciting markets in the world for U.S. exporters of food and agricultural products!

The Japanese food market was valued at $770 billion in 2016 with retail food and beverage sales of $474.9 billion and food service sector of $295.2 billion.  The retail sector amounted to over 60% of the total food market in Japan.

Imports of American consumer ready food products to Japan in 2017
$6.3 Billion – 11% increase from 2016
Japan is the 3rd largest market for U.S. consumer food products

Imports of American processed food products to Japan in 2017
$2.8 Billion – 12% increase from 2016
Japan is the 3rd largest U.S. export market for processed foods

Consumption Trends