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South Korea sees rise in nutraceutical, functional food sales amidst virus epidemic

2020-03-20 11:35 Friday


More people in South Korea are buying functional foods and nutraceuticals in order to promote better health and boost their own immune systems, according to the latest reports from the country's major retailers.

Shops and manufacturers have seen sales of products in the nutraceuticals category surge since January, and industry observers predict the U.S.$ 3.87bn functional food market in the highly-developed Asia Pacific nation will continue to grow.

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Hypermarket chain Homeplus said sales of functional nutrition and health products increased sharply last month. Red ginseng products witnessed a 260% jump in sales year-on-year. Meanwhile, probiotics and vitamin products have experience sales increase by 21% and 67%, respectively.

One office worker in Seoul, Hwangbo Kyung-sun, 29, said it had become routine for her to take krill oil pills and omega-3 supplements to protect herself against the rapidly-spreading COVID-19, along with using the ubiquitous hand sanitizer and face mask products.

Hwangbo told local media: "It's basically the most I can do to not get infected from the virus." Such nutraceuticals are not medicines but they are still considered to have physiological benefits.

Meanwhile, mainstream home-shopping TV channel Lotte Homeshopping, reported its sales of dietary supplements such as propolis and red ginseng soared by 137% compared to the same period in February last year.

Rises in sales of functional healthy eating brands were seen during the H1N1 or swine flu epidemic in 2009 and the MERS epidemic five years ago, said market research firm Kantar Korea. For 2020, the company’s analysts predicted sharp growth of 5% to 9% for nutraceuticals.

In Korea, functional health foods are tightly controlled by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. Every product must be approved by the ministry individually.

As per the country's law, functional foods are defined as those processed and manufactured with "functional" raw materials or ingredients that are beneficial to human health and have been scientifically proven.

The ministry publishes a list of such ingredients approved for functionality, including evening primrose extract and Lingzhi mushroom extract, which have been evaluated through various methods, including animal and human tests.

The Korea Health Supplements Association says that for a company to receive the "Health Functional Food" mark for market distribution for its product, it must meet several criteria set forth by the department, including how they should be processed and the dosage appropriate for beneficial consumption.

The head of the Health Functional Foods Policy department at the Food Ministry, Kang Dae-jin, remarked that while nutraceutical might not produce a dramatic change, they are proven to contain beneficial nutrients that promote good health.

Concurrently, Kang warned of the rise in the number of advertisements which exaggerated the health effects of certain functional foods, some of which inadvertently claim they can offer protection to users against COVID-19.

Kang commented: "Beware, there's not a single health functional food product we've approved as effective in fighting the new virus,"

During the past month, the Food Ministry has received some 20 reports of vitamin and food products which were advertised as being capable of staving off infection from the new coronavirus, according to reports.


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