S Food director Lee Seung-yeon poses at the JohnCook Deli Meat outlet in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul. Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald
With more Koreans being exposed to new ways of consuming pork and beef -- from simply grilling to embracing Western cuisine by making sausage, ham and other meat products -- S-Food, the operator of charcuterie brand JohnCook Deli Meat, has taken the domestic market by storm.
JohnCook Deli Meat’s 99,000 won ($85) German pork dish Schweine Haxen sold out in no time -- 30 minutes -- after airing twice on Lotte Home Shopping in July. S Food also opened four JohnCook Deli Meat outlets -- in Bundang and Gwanggyo in Gyeonggi Province and Apgujeong and Gyeongnidan in Seoul -- selling hot dishes as well as 30 kinds of charcuteries, such as prosciutto, salami and “jamon,” Spanish ham.
The company currently processes 1,200 tons of meat every month and distributes more than 100 different charcuteries, including turkey breast, beerham, Nuremburger, Italian sausage and many more through various retail channels -- discount stores, department stores and online retail sites.
“We were lucky,” said Lee Seung-yeon, director of S Food, who has been responsible for the brand from the beginning.
“More people have visited abroad and tasted different kinds of processed meats -- something frequently shown on popular TV dramas -- and they began to search for them here. Also, an increasing number of people have begun to enjoy outdoor leisure, namely camping. And you can’t forget sausage and ham while camping,” Lee said.
“All this, combined with our three decades of experience in the meat processing business, helped us finally reach where we are,” she added. The recent ease of state regulations on charcuterie sales by allowing vendors to cut the ham and sausage at the sales spot also helped sales, she noted.
But perhaps the biggest secret to the success is the company’s stubborn pursuit of original flavors. The sausages smell meaty with a pinch of spicy smoke, while the ham delivers the rich juicy aromas and a dry feeling of air as well as the chewiness of meat that you could taste on the streets of Frankfurt or New York.
“Many large food corporations have moderated their flavors under the guise of ‘localization.’ This is because Koreans have been used to eating processed ham that use little portions of meat and larger amounts of fish, then seared them with ketchup or soy sauce to eat with steamed rice for meals,” Lee said. At that time, ham was less savory, less meaty and less rich in aroma, she said.
“But we have collaborated with professional ham maker John Mark since 2005 to add credibility to that authenticity, and dispatched people around the world to keep that originality,” Lee said.
She admitted that the business didn’t take off instantly as they had expected. “But now we are seeing other food makers adopting authentic charcuteries in their lineups,” she said.
S Food is now going global. The company has been supplying sliced pork and beef to a Hong Kong hotel and is scheduled to attend several food-related expos in the near future.
“We have noticed that there is a lot of demand out there for high-end processed meat from Korea. It is time we go after them to create a trend,” Lee said.
By Bae Ji-sook(firstname.lastname@example.org
Caption: S Food director Lee Seung-yeon poses at the JohnCook Deli Meat outlet in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul. Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald