SINGAPORE -- Many people may not know that South Korea’s red ginseng entered the Southeast Asian market in the 1930s.
Now amid growing awareness of healthful products and a rise in modern illnesses, Cheong Kwan Jang, the top-selling red ginseng brand by Korea Ginseng Corp., has been quietly making waves in other Asian markets.
Its expanding presence, however, comes after years of efforts, according to the company, as it faced long-standing cultural perception surrounding red ginseng.
“Definitely we are seeing demand of Cheong Kwan Jang grow mainly among the younger generation here,” said Tan Yan Shao, the director of Wing Joo Loong, Cheong Kwan Jang’s longtime importer and distributor in Singapore.
Wing Joo Loong began importing Cheong Kwan Jang products in the 1940s through Korea Ginseng Corp.’s predecessor Samjeonggwa, a department established under Emperor Gojong in the Joseon era in 1899 to preserve and develop Korean ginseng.
Wing Joo Loong currently operates five Cheong Kwan Jang stores in Singapore.
The biggest Cheong Kwan Jang store in Singapore located in China town. (The Korea Herald/ Kim Bo-gyung)
“False information in the market that Korean ginseng produces heat, while American ginseng helps cool down made it difficult to further promote Cheong Kwan Jang,” he said.
Red ginseng had long been positioned as food consumed by elderly who are on the verge of death, as it was only accessible to the privileged in the past.
But the distributor said such perception is gradually changing, as the younger generation is more open to accepting new information.
South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has officially certified five health effects of red ginseng: improvements in immunity, fatigue, memory, anti-oxidative activity, and blood circulation.
Strict processes and standards in the cultivation of ginseng used to make the company’s products -- on average it takes two years to prepare the appropriate soil and six years until harvest -- are some of the marketing points highlighted by the manufacturer.
Cheong Kwan Jang’s ginseng, mostly grown in Gangwon Province and northern Gyeonggi Province in South Korea, go through seven rounds of safety confirmations consisting of 290 different tests.
To expand the company’s presence there, Cheong Kwan Jang officials said they plan to release new supplements made with carefully selected natural ingredients from different parts of the world.
Cheong Kwan Jang’s No. 1 best-selling product in Singapore is Red Ginseng Everytime, conveniently packed 10-milliliter pouches of ginseng liquid extract, the company said.
Demand for the product rapidly soared after it appeared in the megahit Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun,” which aired in the first half of 2016. The series’ main character, played by Song Joong-ki, drinks Everytime after his morning runs.
Trailing behind is Red Ginseng & Aronia made with red ginseng grown for six years that comes in 50-milliliter packets, the company said. Aronia, or chokeberries is the latest fad in Singapore’s health food industry.
The third most purchased item is Luma X, capsules containing red ginseng grown for six years and green lipped mussel oil that helps maintain healthy joints.
“Red ginseng products made by Cheong Kwan Jang are very unique to Korea, just as traditional Japanese food Natto is for Japan. Customers relate our products with strong cultural heritage and quality,” said a spokesperson of Cheong Kwan Jang.
As unique health supplements, Cheong Kwan Jang’s products have often been used as official presents at international events.
In 2014, Cheong Kwan Jang’s ginseng extract made with top-notch chunsam, which means “heaven grade,” was handed out as presents for first ladies from Southeast Asia during the 2014 ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit held in Busan, South Korea.
By Kim Bo-gyung, Korea Herald correspondent (email@example.com)