South Korea Food Trends: Consumer Insights and Preferences

See how the food and beverage industry in South Korea is developing

July 5, 2024 –  Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of the food and beverage landscape in South Korea. Exploring key trends shaping South Korean consumption habits, each category of food and beverage will be highlighted. This includes popular claims and attributes driving purchasing decisions, as well as valuable insights for brands to capitalize on evolving preferences.

Beverage Trends in South Korea

South Korea food trend research shows that consumers are increasingly influenced by indulgent claims when it comes to beverages, with a significant portion of the population seeking elevated experiences. This is particularly evident with alcoholic and non-alcoholic alternative beverages, where indulgence is the number one claim of interest for all subcategories apart from premixed cocktails, where premium claims are most likely to sway consumers. South Korean consumers also over-index the global average for alcohol purchases.

While indulgence is a key driver, health considerations are also important. In the soft drinks category, one in four bottled water consumers are increasing their intake, driven by its healthy image. Consumers are also increasingly interested in low-sugar options within carbonated drinks, energy drinks, and iced coffee and tea.

Taste remains paramount in South Korea food trends, with consumers prioritizing flavor profiles across all beverage subcategories. This is especially true for hot beverages like coffee and tea, where taste is a primary concern for South Korean consumers. Both hot coffee and hot tea consumption has increased in South Korea in the past year, with consumers citing indulgence and sugar reduction as top influential claims. Caffeine free is also highly appealing for hot tea.

South Korea Food Trends

Everyday Staple Food Trends

South Korean consumers are increasingly focused on taste, freshness, and health when it comes to everyday staples. While penetration rates for bread and cereals mirror the global average at 79%, there is a growing demand for healthier options, with consumers prioritizing product safety and wholegrain or whole meal ingredients. However, taste and indulgence are the key motivators for those increasing purchases of bread and cereal.

Consumption of dairy products, on the other hand, shows a slightly lower penetration rate compared to the global average. South Korea food trend research shows that taste is the key driver for yogurt and cheese purchases, while freshness has a bigger influence on milk purchases. Health considerations is the top reason South Korean consumers are increasing their intake of these products. Generally, in the dairy category consumers are looking for balanced fat and sugar reduction, as well as functional ingredients.

Fish and meat consumption is influenced by environmental and ethical concerns, with a significant number of consumers citing these as reasons for decreasing their intake of fish and seafood. However, changing lifestyles and needs are driving an increase in consumption for meat and poultry products. Freshness, quality sourcing, and product safety claims are all key attributes for South Korean consumers as well, with product safety as particularly important for fish and seafood consumers.

Meal Preparation in South Korea

South Korean consumers are seeking convenient and tasty meal preparation solutions, with all categories within meal preparation showcasing increased rates of purchasing over the past year. Taste is the top attribute influencing consumers purchasing decisions of foods in this category, with one in two citing it as a key factor. Indulgence claims are also impacting uptake, particularly in sauce and dips categories, with changing preferences and lifestyle needs driving the demand for these products.

Health and naturalness are important considerations for consumers when it comes to spreads, with local sourcing and organic options gaining popularity. In ready meals, convenience is a significant driver, with one in five consumers citing it as a key reason for increasing intake. Product safety is also a top concern in ready meals.

Interestingly, South Korean consumers are showing a strong preference for texture and flavor in meal preparation, far more than the global average. This suggests a growing demand for innovative and flavorful options that cater to their specific taste preferences.

Snacks and Treats

In snacks and treats, South Korean consumers are increasingly health-conscious, with taste remaining the top attribute influencing their purchasing decisions. While indulgence claims are still important, naturalness is gaining ground, particularly among those who are decreasing their snack intake. For those increasing their intake, changing taste preferences is the most cited driver.

Safety claims are pivotal, with healthier options like low/reduced sugar and fat being highly influential. Interestingly, South Korean consumers under-index globally in terms of interest in products made with real ingredients and free from artificial flavors and colors.

Protein is a desirable attribute for those increasing their intake of cereal and energy bars, highlighting the growing focus on functional ingredients in these foods.

In terms of specific categories, cakes and pastries have the highest penetration in South Korea, exceeding the global average. Ice cream stands out with a strong emphasis on taste and cost, while indulgence and traditional health claims are in high demand.

Plant-Based and Special Diets

Health concerns are driving South Korean consumers to increase consumption of both plant-based foods and sports nutrition. While purchasing rates for meat substitutes and dairy alternatives is below the global average, a significant portion of consumers are increasing their intake of plant-based alternatives. Additionally, 32% of South Korean consumers have purchased sports and functional nutrition products, compared to the global average of 28%.

The key drivers for this South Korea food trend are health and sustainability. Around one in four consumers who are increasing their intake of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives cite health as the primary reason. Protein is a highly desirable claim for meat substitutes, and consumers are also looking for sugar and fat reduction in dairy alternative products. Organic is the top-ranking claim for plant-based cheese.

Functionality and effectiveness are the most important attributes for sports nutrition foods, with naturalness also being a key consideration.

What’s Next in South Korea Food Trends?

South Korean consumers are highly interested in indulgent eating and drinking experiences. This presents an opportunity for brands to create amplified ‘luxury’ experiences focusing on flavor and texture of foods.

Additionally, while traditional health claims hold a low place in South Korean consumer preferences, there is an opportunity to cater to healthier choices with a focus on functionality, particularly in areas like sugar and fat reduction.

Taste and flavor are overwhelmingly the top attributes influencing purchase decisions across categories. While traditional and well-loved flavors remain popular, there is a growing interest in international foods and unexpected flavor blends.

Product safety is a key concern for South Korean consumers, and clear messaging on ingredient sourcing and production is crucial. Innovators should address concerns about artificial flavors and colors, emphasizing natural ingredients and real food.


This article is based on our report, “Category Growth Drivers in South Korea.” If you are interested in reading this report, feel free to request a demo.
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