South Korea’s lamb imports in 2017 hit an all-time high of $109 million on burgeoning population of skewered barbecued lamb in line with growing demand for the diversification of food culture.
According to Korea Customs Service on Friday, Korea imported a total $109 million worth of lamb last year, up 81.5 percent from a year ago. It is the first time that annual lamb imports have topped $100 million. Inbound shipments of lamb also surged 20 percent in January and February from the same period last year to reach $22 million, data showed.
By country, Australia was the largest provider, accounting for 91.5 percent of total imports, followed by New Zealand with 8.5 percent. Demand for fresh lamb, in particular, has surged in Korea, accounting for 21.6 percent of total imports last year, up from 11.5 percent in 2015. In line with growing preference over fresh lamb, the import cost of lamb jumped from $5.7 per kilogram in 2015 to $7.2.
Korea has been enjoying growing popularity of lamb since 2010 when restaurants serving Chinese-style skewered barbecued lamb started to boom. Currently, more than 3,000 restaurants, including high-end restaurants and about 50 franchise brands, are serving lamb as their main menu.
To meet the high lamb demand, Korean retailers have been expanding lamb sale. E-Mart, a discount store chain owned by retail giant Shinsegae Group, recently announced to increase the number of its outlets selling lamb from current 30 stores mostly in the Seoul metropolitan area.
An unnamed official from Korea Customs Service said the rise in the number of restaurants serving lamb comes on the back of growing demand among consumers for diversification in food culture, which would continue to push up lamb imports.
By Sohn Il-seon and Lee Eun-joo
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