South Korea Rocked by Kimbap InflationBy Nathan Schwartzman Jan 22, 2008 5:06PM UTC
Yes, those 1,000-won treats you enjoyed on your way to work or lunch break are getting more expensive — 50% so. I first saw the price increases last December when a 소문난김밥 store put up a sign announcing prices in January would go up. Personally I always wondered how they could possibly afford to give me a kimbap, radishes, chopsticks and bag for so little money anyway.
33-year old Office worker in Seoul Mr. Lee is keenly feeling the effects of rapidly rising prices. He went to the Kimbap Cheonguk across from his home every day to get his morning meal — one kimbap roll for 1,000 won — but this year the price has gone up 50% to 1,500 won. Before getting out of Government Complex Gwacheon Station on Line 4 and going to his company he enjoys getting a 2,000-won americano at a nearby coffee shop, but since February the price has gone up to 2,500 won. The kimbap and coffee he enjoyed before work have jointly increased in price by 500 won. The “500-won revolt” has begun. The 2,000-won “on the way coffee” so loved by office workers is ready to go to 2,500 won. The 1,000-won kimbap of “solidly trustworthy” Kimbap Cheonguk will go to 1,500 won. In a month you will have to pay an extra 20,000 won for a “happy commute”. The effects of the international increase in the costs of raw materials and farm goods which began in the second half of last year has had an immediate, terrible impact on commuters. According to a coffee industry report on the 15th, compared to January of last year the price of a pound of arabica coffee beans has increased 12%, from 122.4 to 137.1 cents, and the price of robusta beans increased 28%, from 71.4 to 91.2 cents. Accordingly take-out coffee shops have raised the formerly fixed price of an americano from 2,000 to 2,500 won. Beginning this month one take-out coffee shop in Gwacheon in Gyeonggi-do has finally abandoned its “2,000-won” pricing strategy. A source at the store said, “since we use relatively high-quality beans, the upward pressure in bean prices has meant that we have to charge more than other shops around here. Since we raised the price to 2,500 won we’ve seen a lot fewer customers coming in.” Yun, barista at “Le Petit Prince” (어린왕자), a take-out coffee shop in Samcheong-dong in Seoul, said, “since the middle of January the price of a kilogram of beans has gone up 10%, from 32,000 to 35,000 won. We’re feeling the pinch of inflation as the price of disposable cups has gone up too.” Yun complained, “the company that provides us with high-quality beans from Italy informed us too late about the price increase. We’ve had to instantly raise prices but we really apologize to our regular customers who come from far away, there’s nothing we can do.” Major coffee chains have not been immune to these price increases. In the second half of last year every Coffee Bean location increased prices by 300 won across the board. Their cheapest option, a small americano, went from 3,700 to 4,000 won. Moreover there is no coffee you can get there for 3,000 won. Kimbap Cheonguk, loved by office workers for their breakfasts and by students for convenient quick snacks, is spreading the 500-won revolt. Lee Jin-yeong, head of the public relations team at Jungdaemeun, the company that owns Kimbap Cheonguk, said, “since the end of last year there has been a stampede of questions from franchisees about increasing kimbap prices. Accordingly this year we decided to give them the freedom to raise prices by 500 won.” Many Kimbap Cheonguk franchises in Seoul are already raising their prices, the company said. The price of seaweed has steadily gone up beginning last year and so have those for vegetables, meaning that the 500-won profit made on a kimbap roll had fallen to 200 won, the company explained. Lee said, “our franchisees who demand high-quality seaweed and vegetables were seeing their profit margins fall and fall. We’ve had to abandon the symbolism of having 1,000-won kimbap in the face of increasingly high prices.”