Korean Ginseng Revitalizes the World

    May 18, 2006 19:46

    In early April, Chang Kyung-seop got a moving e-mail from a Iranian man. The message to Chang, an official in Korea Ginseng Corporation’s overseas department, said the Iranian’s 17-year-old son, who has cancer, saw his pain reduced and appetite increase after he started drinking Korean red ginseng tea he was given by an acquaintance. “It is a very urgent issue,” he said. “Can I get more Korean red ginseng tea?” Chang says that is just one of many positive responses he has been getting since Korean ginseng started selling around the world.

    This year, Korean ginseng rules the global market again. The nation aims to export US$100 million worth of ginseng this year, an increase of more than 30 percent from last year’s $75 million. Yet exports declined 15 percent last year from the $89 million worth of ginseng exported in 2004. The slide was due to the global economic downturn and decreasing price competitiveness caused by the strong won, allowing low-priced ginseng from China, the U.S. and Canada to eat into Korea’s market share.

    Korea is not the world’s no. 1 in terms of ginseng production. That is China, which produces 52,000 tons of the root to account for 67 percent of global production. Korea follows with 16,000 tons (20 percent), ahead of Canada with 6,000 tons (7 percent) and the U.S. with 2,100 tons (3 percent). Recently, countries like Australia and Germany have also started producing ginseng. But in terms of market size, Korea is way ahead. As of last year, the global ginseng market was valued at W2 trillion(US2 billion) and the Korean market took the biggest share with W85 million. The reason is that Korean ginseng is significantly more expensive than ginseng from elsewhere, and much of it is consumed locally. The highest quality Korean ginseng is 10 times more expensive than the Chinese variety and five times more than the U.S. equivalent.

    Among the various varieties, red ginseng leads the way in recovering Korean exports. Red ginseng is produced by steaming six-year-old ginseng and then drying it. The unique color that results gives it its name. As a flagship ginseng product, red ginseng accounts for two-thirds of total exports.

    Korean ginseng is so popular around the world because it is particularly efficacious, as scientific studies show. Research by pharmacologists and doctors suggest ginseng is effective in preventing cancer and diabetes and also helps treat erectile dysfunction. In addition, taking ginseng helps reduce stress and fatigue and improves memory. The core element that makes it so effective is called ginseng saponin. “Korean six-year-old red ginseng has as many as 37 kinds of ginseng saponin,” says Park Jong-dae, a researcher with KT&G, the nation’s biggest tobacco company and KGC’s parent company. “By contrast, Chinese ginseng and U.S. ginseng have only 13 and 14 kinds of ginseng saponin.”

    Another reason is that Korean ginseng has very strong brand power. Among consumers worldwide, the brand known as Korean Red Ginseng or Korean Ginseng is seen as a premium product.

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