With au­to­ma­tion, Korean dumplings go global in busi­ness bet

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FOOD - By Youkyung Lee

IN­CHEON, SOUTH KOREA » Move over pot stick­ers, here comes an­other Asian dumpling.

South Korea’s largest food com­pany is mak­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar bet on “mandu,” de­vel­op­ing its own ma­chines to au­to­mate the nor­mally la­bor-in­ten­sive pro­duc­tion of the Korean dumpling and build­ing fac­to­ries around the world.

“It will be the next kim­chi,” pre­dicted Cho Gun Ae, a se­nior re­searcher at CJ CheilJedang Corp. who has spent more than 20 years re­search­ing dumpling recipes and pro­duc­tion.

The nearly 4-year-old ef­fort is an ex­am­ple of how tech­nol­ogy is trans­form­ing the food in­dus­try, in this case mak­ing over the image of frozen dumplings as a cheap and un­healthy prod­uct made by small com­pa­nies. Au­to­ma­tion made the qual­ity, the look and the size of each bite-size dumpling con­sis­tent and sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity, Cho said.

CJ re­cently opened a fac­tory in New Jer­sey, its third in the U.S., and has ex­panded pro­duc­tion lines in China and snapped up lo­cal com­pa­nies in Viet­nam and Rus­sia so it can churn out more of its Bibigo-brand frozen dumplings.

Few work­ers could be seen on a re­cent visit to a CJ fac­tory in South Korea. One picked out de­fec­tive onions and cab­bages from a con­veyor belt where ma­chines washed the veg­eta­bles with wa­ter and chopped them into cubes in sec­onds. At an­other con­veyor belt, two work­ers picked out de­fec­tive chives, while an­other checked the ma­chines to make sure they were run­ning smoothly.

A se­ries of ma­chines cut the dough into iden­ti­cally sized cir­cles, dropped a dol­lop of fill­ing in­side and closed the dumpling into a cres­cent shape, onto which an­other ma­chine put a frill-shaped pat­tern. Lines of dumplings streamed out on con­veyor belts, like a pro­duc­tion line of minia­ture cars. The fa­cil­ity in In­cheon, out­side of Seoul, pro­duces 100 tons of dumplings a day.

One chal­lenge was de­sign­ing the ma­chines that make the pat­tern on the dumplings. In­stead of us­ing ma­chines made in Ja­pan for its pop­u­lar “gy­oza” dumplings, CJ de­vel­oped a new ma­chine for mandu.

Last year, U.S. sales of CJ’s Bibigo dumplings surged 70 per­cent to 175 bil­lion won ($156 mil­lion).

Tess Sarosdy of San An­to­nio, Texas, who re­views ready-made foods on her blog “I Am Tired of Cook­ing,” praised the mandu for be­ing easy to heat and serve.

“Amer­i­can con­sumers are more fa­mil­iar with pot stick­ers and not the Bibigo-style of dumpling,” she said in an email in­ter­view. “My daugh­ter loves them.”

Moon Jung-hoon, a food busi­ness pro­fes­sor at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity, is up­beat about CJ’s dumpling busi­ness.

“Its tar­gets are Chi­nese, Chi- nese peo­ple out­side China and oth­ers around the world who are fa­mil­iar with Chi­nese dim sum,” he said.

Glob­ally, the com­pany aims to triple its dumpling sales to 1 tril­lion won ($929 mil­lion) by 2020, mostly to Kore­ans, Amer­i­cans, Chi­nese and Rus- Korean ex­ports, such as au­tos sians. and ships, are strug­gling to

It would be an un­usual feat grow and com­pa­nies are re­luc­tant at a time when main­stay South to ex­pand in­vest­ment.

AP PHO­TOS/LEE JIN-MAN

Work­ers in­spect dumplings on a con­veyor belt that are made at an au­to­mated fac­tory of CJ CheilJedang Corp. in In­cheon, South Korea. South Korea’s largest food com­pany is mak­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bet on “mandu,” de­vel­op­ing its own ma­chines to au­to­mate the nor­mally la­bor-in­ten­sive pro­duc­tion of the Korean dumpling and build­ing fac­to­ries around the world.

Work­ers in­spect chives be­fore they go into Bibigo dumplings at an au­to­mated fac­tory of CJ CheilJedang Corp. in In­cheon, South Korea.

A worker looks in­side the ma­chine that mixes the in­gre­di­ents for Bibigo dumplings at an au­to­mated fac­tory of CJ CheilJedang Corp. in In­cheon, South Korea.

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