Businesses riding on the Hallyu wave

Korean brands are making their way into the retail market worldwide, particularly in the Asian region


MALAYSIANS began embracing the Korean wave — or better known as “Hallyu” — since the early 2000s, when popular dramas like “Winter Sonata” and “Autumn in My Heart” hit the screens of our local television (TV) stations.

However, its pop culture started to really storm the world only recently, thanks to the Internet.

The impact that these Korean stars made on their fans is so great that their names appearing on global headlines — be it for good or bad news — has become a norm, and not just for the entertainment sections.

Korean brands — especially those which are strategically placed in the drama series, music videos, TV shows, or even on the stars’ Instagram posts — have made their way into other countries’ retail market, particularly in the Asian region.

Korean foods, like fried chicken dakgalbi, barbecue and topokki are also the latest craze in Malaysia, especially in the Klang Valley.

Among the most popular Korean restaurants here are MyeongDong Topokki, KyoChon 1991, Mr Dakgalbi and Bulgogi Brothers.

The BlackPink 2019 World Tour

AirAsia & Hallyu
Malaysia’s largest airline, AirAsia Group Bhd, has also jumped on the Hallyu bandwagon.

Even its CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes seems to be a follower of K-pop culture and promised to bring one of the top K-pop groups, BTS, to Malaysia one day.

K-pop fans know that bringing in BTS to the country means bringing a lot of money and global interest into Malaysia, and fortune for AirAsia.

The seven-member group was reportedly earning around US$88 million (RM361.63 million) as of October last year and has the biggest fanbase in K-pop culture.

AirAsia also sponsored a Korean drama series “On the Way to the Airport” by Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) in 2016. The romance drama was starred by famous actors Lee Sang-yoon and Kim Ha-Neul.

The 16-episode series reached an average of 8.4% ratings nationwide, according to AGB Nielsen Media Research BV.

Additionally, AirAsia had recently introduced “Chef Hong’s Korean Sweet & Spicy Chicken” to their Santan inflight menu.

Chef Hong Seok Cheon is a Korean TV personality and successful restaurateur, who is no stranger to K-pop culture followers.

Proving his familiarity with the Korean industry, Fernandes has also posted on his social media a photo of him hanging out with actor Oh Sang Jin and TVXQ’s Shim Chang Min.

Chef Hong’s Korean Sweet & Spicy Chicken

Fast-Food Fusions
Fast-food chains in Malaysia have taken advantage of the Korean food craze by introducing Korean-fused food items on their menus.

McDonald’s Malaysia (Gerbang Alaf Restaurants Sdn Bhd) recently brought back its “Spicy Korean Burger”, after receiving an overwhelming response when it was first launched in 2017.

Despite being Texan-themed, Texas Chicken (M) Sdn Bhd had the “Spicy Korean Mash Bowl” and “Spicy Korean Rice Bowl” on its menu.

Domino’s Pizza went all-out with its “Samyeang Pizza” creations last year, which included the “Samyeang Tuna Pizza”, “Samyeang Chicken Pizza” and “Samyeang Beef Pizza”. Domino’s also introduced a new chicken wing side dish named “Ayam-haseyo”, a pun take on the Korean word annyeonghaseyo (which means “hello”).

Of course, what is Asia without instant noodles, or ramen? Nestlé (M) Bhd introduced the “Royale Korean Spicy Braised Beef” instant noodle under its Maggie brand.

Mamee-Double Decker (M) Sdn Bhd collaborated with South Korean-company Shinsegae Food Inc and launched “The Daebak” ramen.

The joint-venture company went up a notch by having famous Korean model Cho In Ho as brand ambassador. Super Junior’s Kim Hee Chul had also once promoted the instant noodle brand on a Korean TV show, “tvN’s Life Bar”.

Since then, the “Daebak” ramen has become very popular not only in South Korea but also Malaysia. Many YouTubers have posted review videos of the particular ramen on their channels.

Tickets to BTS’ ‘Burn the Stage: The Movie’ was sold out in all 36 GSC locations nationwide

Movies and Concerts
Last year, GSC Movies Sdn Bhd owned the exclusive right to distribute BTS’ “Burn the Stage: The Movie”.

The halls were fully booked in all 36 GSC locations nationwide, and the demands were so great that GSC had to add several additional showings.

As if that was not crazy enough, GSC’s website crashed when ticket sales opened.

The same happened when tickets to the Black- Pink 2019 World Tour sold out, where organiser MacpiePro Sdn Bhd had to add a second show – which was also a sell-out.

The concert was in partnership with KIA Motors Corp, who carried out a contest where fans could win tickets. Among the sponsors for the concert were Mcalls, Kyochon F&B Co Ltd, INTI International University & Colleges, Malaysia Milk Sdn Bhd and Atria Shopping Gallery.

Brands rushing in to sponsor such events is not a surprise, seeing how Malaysia is one of the compulsory stops for K-pop concerts and fan meetand- greets.

The Daebak Korean ramen and McDonald’s Spicy Korean Burger

Korean-themed Retails
1 Utama Shopping Centre had recently softlaunched its Korean-themed retail zone, known as District K.

The four-level retail zone is located at the mall’s new extension “1 Utama E”, which focuses on sports tourism, entertainment and food and beverage (F&B) offerings.

The RM120 million investment, which features an authentic Korean street experience driven by the popularity of K-pop culture, is aimed for completion by the end of this year.

1 Utama director and Malaysia Shopping Malls Association (PPK) president Tan Sri Teo Chiang Kok reportedly said shopping malls must be agile and adaptive to stay ahead of the curve with the constant change in consumer expectations and the rise of technology, especially in gaming and entertainment, offering experiential participation of players.

“Within this scenario, malls constantly strive to offer new and different retailers and merchandise, F&B and entertainment in order to attract shoppers,” he added.

PPK Malaysia has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to enhance mutual trade collaboration and co-operation between Korea and Malaysia to bring in new franchise opportunities of Korean companies to shopping malls in Malaysia.

A screenshot from the Korean drama series ‘On the Way to the Airport’

Learning from the Wave
The remarkable development of Korean pop culture has caught the attention of the whole world, particularly the neighbouring Asian countries.

The growth, apart from being facilitated by the Internet, is also aided by the South Korean government itself. It was reported that there is a department in the government dedicated solely to K-pop, to promote Korean music to the world.

So huge is the phenomenon, even North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol Ju did not miss a K-pop concert in Pyongyang.

They saw Red Velvet, one of South Korea’s top K-pop groups, performing hit songs including “Bad Boy” and “Red Flavour”.

After the performance, Kim and his wife met with the performers and shook hands with every group member.

“Many wanted to know if I would come to see Red Velvet. I rearranged my schedule to come to the concert today,” Kim was reportedly saying.

This was evidence that K-pop is more than just entertainment business. K-pop is able to garner such huge audiences worldwide for promoting the Korean culture — language, history, people, traditional clothes such as the hanbok, and food — through media.