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Author Ditsa Keren
Ditsa Keren
Created on Jan 15th, 2023
Fact checked by Deborah Leigh

Kim’C, a flourishing and affordable organic Korean food Market for Fine Food, Health Conscious Connoisseurs

Tell me about the genesis of KimC…How did it start? How has it evolved? And what motivated you to create this company?

Kim C Markets is a premium, natural Asian market that we wanted to start from the Korean vertical.

Two factors led me to create KimC Markets: my young uncle's death and the realization that despite living in the US for 30 years, I am still an immigrant. How do my uncle’s death and realizing the implications of being an immigrant relate to the creation of KimC Markets? 

As immigrants, we don’t have extended family in America.I first settled in California some thirty years ago and later moved to New York, where I joined my beloved young uncle and his family of four. We lived right around the corner from one another in Brooklyn.  

He was just a few years older than I. He earned his Master’s degree in engineering in Korea and worked as an engineer in New York. We were like brothers. We lived together, traveled together, played golf together. His death four years ago at the age of 45 was devastating to me. He passed away when he was only 45. We lost him to cancer and I had to run the funeral by myself..

So, after the funeral, I looked at his wife and two young sons and realized that I'm the only adult male in the family. I had to step up to the role of father figure for my nephews. I also grew up without my father. And I could foresee the difficulties and challenges that lay ahead for two orphaned kids to an immigrant widow. Mainly, the lack of mentorship and extended family support that other people take for granted. 

That's when I understood I needed to step up towards a healthier life. 

After having grown accustomed to eating anything and everything, I started reading the labels on food products. I embarked on a trend to go back to natural ingredients and good quality Korean food. 

Players in the supply chain food industry include the overseas producer, the importer, the distributor and the retailer. They all take a margin and thus need to make sure the producer keeps payroll costs. Simply put, it means that to keep the shelf price low enough or attractive enough, they don’t always use the best quality products.

At KimC we began to import a small number of high quality foreign products. We wrote about their different uses, health benefits, their importance in the kitchen and posted recipes and advice on how to cook them. Thus, we skipped all the other supply chain players and began shipping directly to customers. 

This is how we managed to keep the cost down, while delivering fine quality and healthy ingredients.

But to make our choices of import foods, we did extensive research. We actually invested a lot of time interviewing farmers and producers in Korea, asking why they picked one ingredient over another, or why they bought a product from this region and not another. We needed to be convinced the products had no unnecessary preservatives and toxic chemical ingredients. Specific ingredients lead to disqualifications in stores like KeySmart, so we had to do our homework. 

That's how we selected our first five shelf stable products, specifically, five Korean pantry essential items.

We created cooking videos on WhatsApp, instructing viewers on how to put together original and creative recipes. 

Our consumer affairs started with zero advertising. By March of this year we started posting on social media. Our business has grown organically, via continuous creation of website content. 

Our clientele or potential buyers search some keywords on Google, like for example, Korean grocery, or Korean food. We rose to number two on Google as a Korean market and number one on Korean food.

Where do you get Korean organic products when you are based in New York?

They are all imported from Korea. We started with five products. Three years later, we are marketing 530 products. 

We sell in the US and are looking to expand to other countries. But we make sure all the ingredients are from either Korea or Japan. These two countries’ regulations include specifying the country of origin of the product’s ingredients. That regulation does not exist in the US, where you can buy a box of “Korean” rice, grown in California..

Who are your typical customers and what challenges have you solved for them? 

To begin with, we offer healthier and better alternatives to supermarket products. Actually, we’ve solved the challenge of offering our clients tasty foods that aren’t junk.

You sell in the USA exclusively?

Right now, only in America but we have plans to expand to Germany within three years

And we would like to expand our service and choices to cater to Taiwanese and Chinese customers.

So you're telling me that the future of the food industry is going to be focused on quality products? 

Yes, that’s the trend. People are increasingly health conscious and consider high quality products essential. 

I’ll tell you more about the grocery industry business. Korea and China, as well as other countries have rapidly developed ecommerce.

In America, ordering grocery items online is becoming increasingly popular and the pandemic has had a big impact in this trend.. 

The US grocery industry is worth a $1.3 trillion market. Only 10 percent is transacted online, including Instacart and Curbside Pickup. Curbside pickup means the customer orders online and chooses the option to pick up his shopping at an agreed time. When he gets to the store, his grocery bag is waiting for him.

But despite all these factors, ecommerce covers only 10 percent of the US grocery market. 

Asian groceries make $130 billion dollars per year in the US market. That’s only 1.2 percent market penetration. In other words, only 10 percent of grocery purchases are transacted online in the US, while 1.2 percent cover the online Asian grocery markets. The gap is huge. 

Asian immigrants in America have a higher disposable income than various other ethnic groups. Asians view food as an added benefit. Therefore, they tend to spend more money on organic and natural foods. 

Asian grocery markets are usually run by families that started many years ago in brick and mortar shops. And they more or less follow the same model: opening a brick and mortar storefront where people can shop. When considering online sales, they think it’s too complicated and impractical money-wise. 

But in America, large corporations like Amazon are encouraging businesses like Walmart to offer online services. That's because they have deeper pockets and they can be innovative. 

Can you tell me about some cases where your products or services helped to increase sales and improve customer experience? 

One of the aspects of improved customer services is that we focus on delivery. If our goal is to increase sales online, then we must have that aspect running smoothly and speedily. 

Consumer experience and customer experience are broad terms that include many things. Speed of delivery and customer service make online purchasing easy in a few steps. 

But the customer may also choose Curb Pickup at his convenience.   

Therefore, we post many articles related to consumer education to enhance user and consumer experience. And our relationship with users isn’t solely based on purchases. They have literally become our extended family. This aspect is pivotal to us because as immigrants, we don't rely on an extended family system. We have found many people in similar situations and would like everyone to stay healthy. That's the bottom line. 

The product that I would like to specifically highlight is rice. Asians in general, Japanese and Koreans in particular, eat a lot of rice. The taste of the rice comes mainly from its variety.

Indians and Chinese use long grain rice. The short grain, which is a little thicker rice, is more specific to the Japanese and Koreans. The quality of rice is determined by its freshness and its size. 

After farmers harvest the rice, they bring it to a rice plant to remove the husks. The level at which husks are removed determines whether it will be called brown rice. Actually, all rice is white inside. White rice covered by bran is brown rice. So brown rice is not a different rice. . If you take the bran out by milling it, it starts losing aroma and texture and goes through a process of oxidation. This makes it lose its taste and aroma.

Rice variety is also important. There are 300 varieties of rice in Korea. Every single grain  variety is different. Although they are all short grain, each has its own unique taste and appearance.

The US protocol dictates that even if the rice is California-grown, the package label may indicate that the product is Korean or Japanese. But in fact, it’s all the same rice. 

Big farmers or big farms produce the grains. They are collected by an operation company that transports them into big milling machines. They basically buy all these different varieties of grains and then mill them together all at once. And then they package the product to suit the preferences of big market customers and ship it to them. So, customers buy those packages and notice a Korean name, misleading them to think that maybe this rice is from Korea. If the name is Japanese, they are led to believe the product is from Japan. 

And there are several other problems.The rice can’t be tasty and it can’t be fresh. Number one, because it’s a mix of different grains, neither long nor short. It’s mid grain.

Another aspect of US law is that it doesn't require producers to put an expiration date on rice packages. So, you don't know when it was harvested nor when it was milled. It is usually sold in big 20 pound or 40 pound bags because stores play on volumes to promote sales.

At KimC, we strongly recommend consumers buy smaller amounts, like five or ten-pound bags. And we let them choose the milling rate. So you can choose brown rice or white rice, or in-between. You may customize your rice. You may choose to remove 100 percent of the bran, 70 percent, 50 percent and even 30 percent. Our machines cut the milling rates at our clients’ convenience.

We've picked the best five rice varieties, amid 200 Korean varieties. We are thinking of adding a few more. 

Is there anything else you would like to share, something we don’t know?

Leader, a very powerful media in America, publishes in-depth business articles, sent a journalist to do a story on KimC. The crew spent more than three and a half hours studying the rice milling machine. We even let the writer use the machine to mill some rice.. 

For me, this is a symbol of the exclusive quality of the products KimC market sells to customers. 

There are many misleading issues with the food we consume. If people buy a package of white rice with a Korean label, they are certain that it is imported from Korea. And since the Korean people are big rice consumers, they are misled because the package has a Korean name.

But that’s not the best way to consume rice. By the time it gets shipped to New York, almost two months have transpired. Obviously,  it is no longer fresh by the time the stored product is dispatched to customers. 

At KimC, we store the brown rice and mill it according to clients’ choice in variety and milling rate. Unequivocally, at KimC we sell the best quality rice. 

Our bottom line is to keep everyone healthy. 

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