Red ginseng becomes staple in Singapore

SINGAPORE — A Chinese Singaporean customer at CheongKwanJang’s Chinatown Point store in this Asian city seemed to be used to buying a box of red ginseng extract packaged in stick pouches.

At the store, which is almost the same as those in Korea in terms of interior and products on display, she was not the only customer who was purchasing Everytime Royal, which has gained huge popularity with fans of “Descendants of the Sun.”

In the megahit Korean TV series, actor Song Joong-ki frequently took it, in a display of embedded marketing of the health supplement of CheongKwanJang, the world’s top ginseng brand.

According to brand owner Korea Ginseng Corp. (KGC), global sales of the red ginseng extract in stick pouches has soared since the drama aired two years ago.

“The best-selling items here are Everytime Royal and the Good Base Red Ginseng & Aronia, a mixture of chokeberries and red ginseng,” a salesclerk at the store said. “The Rhuma X capsule for healthier joints is also selling well.”

Given that the store is located in the center of Chinatown, most customers were Chinese Singaporeans.

The salesclerk said customers from outside Singapore account for 20 percent of the total customers to the store, adding that the greater part of them have Chinese origins.

“Our customers mostly get to know about CheongKwanJang through social media, such as Facebook,” she said.

The store is blocks from the head office of the brand’s local importer, Wing Joo Loong.

Workers at the traditional Chinese medicine company, which operates CheongKwanJang’s stores in Singapore, were silently trimming and sorting herbs with a great deal of concentration.

The Chinese-style pharmacy’s showcases on every side of the walls were filled with CheongKwanJang’s old tins containing roots, as if it were a museum of the Korean brand.

Some of the tins were produced several decades ago, when the government was the exclusive seller and exporter of ginseng in Korea.

The company said it has dealt in CheongKwanJang’s red ginseng in Singapore since the 1930s.

“The main reason for displaying CheongKwanJang’s tins is that they do not go bad on the shelves, unlike other ginseng products we deal with,” Wing Joo Loong director Tan Yan Shao said. “The tins are also good for introducing our business. In Singapore, there are many traditional herbal clinics displaying the tins.”

However, the director said Singaporean customers have yet to prefer CheongKwanJang to American ginseng, which is available at lower prices than Korean red ginseng.

“CheongKwanJang’s products account for 20 percent of our sales,” he said. “There is a belief in Southeast Asia that Korean red ginseng produces body heat, so those living in hot regions have been reluctant to try it.”

According to the Chinese descendant, Singaporeans have continued to reduce their prejudices against Korean red ginseng, because of a gradual increase in the number of Singaporean tourists to Korea and social media.

He said younger generations in Singapore have begun buying CheongKwanJang’s products, after being recommended by their friends who traveled to Korea.

The director also admitted “Descendants of the Sun” has attracted more K-pop fans in his country to purchase the red ginseng extract, although some of them were surprised at its strong bitterness.

Despite several difficulties in sales of CheongKwanJang’s products, he seems to be confident about the competitiveness of the Korean brand.

The KGC said Singapore is its sixth-largest market among 40 countries selling CheongKwanJang’s products.

Korea’s top-tier herbal supplement maker has been trying to expand its presence in other Southeast Asian countries, based on CheongKwanJang’s growing popularity with customers in Singapore.

“Singaporeans tend to stay indoors and drink beverages with high sugar content. As red ginseng was found to control blood glucose and insulin, many diabetics in Singapore are looking for red ginseng,” a KGC spokesman said.

According to a report from Euromonitor, the international market intelligence publisher, the global ginseng retail market was valued at approximately $2.28 billion as of 2015.

The report showed CheongKwanJang came out on top with a 34.7 percent market share.