The South Korean vegan market experienced exponential growth in 2022, driven by the recent impact of COVID-19 and increased awareness of environmental protection and animal rights. Existing vegan food companies in Korea, as well as major conglomerates entering the market as latecomers, are showing strong interest in the field. With their deep pockets and active promotion, these conglomerates have propelled the vegetarian/vegan market to the forefront, transforming it from a niche market to a prominent one.
In 2020, the vegetarian/vegan food market in the United States was worth 1.7 billion USD, while in Korea, it was relatively smaller at 17.4 million USD. However, the vegan market in Korea is just beginning to gain traction, as evidenced by the growing awareness of the lifestyle. Nevertheless, many people who are aware of the term "vegan" are still unclear about its definition, and the segmentation of the vegetarian/vegan market is not well-defined.
China and the US dominate the global market for plant-based drinks, accounting for almost half of the total market share. South Korea's plant-based drinks market is ranked 8th in the world, with a projected growth from 500-584 million USD in 2021 to over 666 million USD in 2026. Although the plant-based drinks market is substantial in South Korea, the substitute meat market, which includes bean-based meat products that imitate the texture and flavor of animal-based meat, is the primary trend and gaining popularity.
Both major and minor companies utilize online and offline channels for sales, but major companies that have entered the market later are showing higher numbers of publicity and have more offline access to customers. Mid-sized to small-sized companies, on the other hand, are relying almost exclusively on online markets and being associated with marketplaces, special online stores, search engines, and shopping malls.
The online sales channel is experiencing rapid growth in the vegan product market. According to industry data, online sellers of vegan products saw a 20% increase in sales in 2021. If you're interested in learning more about this sales channel, we invite you to check out our recent report on E-commerce in South Korea.
Both in online and offline markets, overseas brands are highly valued for their vegan and eco-friendly products, providing a great opportunity for foreign vegan product suppliers to offer Korean customers top-quality items and a wide range of options. Currently, there are no specific laws or protocols regarding the import of vegan food in Korea, and the government's regulations on the import of foreign food apply equally to vegan food. After importation, vegan foods are sold on various marketplaces and channels, often with private certification from the Korea Agency of Vegan Certification, although it is not mandatory.
Korea hosts various food festivals and exhibitions, including events that feature vegetarian and vegan food. Two of the most established vegan food exhibitions are Vegan Festa and K-Vegan Fair in Seoul. Other notable food and beverage exhibitions in Korea include Seoul Food & Hotel and COEX Food Week.