Seoul’s food prices among highest in the world

January 12, 2015
Analysts attribute high consumer prices on food to a complex South Korean distribution system. (Yonhap)

Analysts attribute high consumer prices on food to a complex South Korean distribution system. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — The prices of food and beverages like beef and coffee in Seoul are among the highest in the world despite the number of free trade agreements (FTAs) South Korea has signed with other countries, a consumer report showed Monday.

In a survey of 13 major cities throughout the world, Seoul was found to have one of the highest prices for 35 food and drink items, according to the report by local civic group Consumer Korea.

The prices of 42 different commodities and foodstuffs were studied in June and October of last year. The cities surveyed in the report include New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, London, Milan, Toronto, Sydney, Madrid, Amsterdam and Taipei.

The local Starbucks coffee chains in Seoul, for example, sell the most expensive tall-sized cup of Americano in the world at 4,100 won (US$3.78), exceeding the price of same coffee in Paris, Beijing, Tokyo and Amsterdam, the report showed. Seoul’s price is 65.5 percent higher than the cheapest cup of the Americano sold in New York.

Chilean wine was also more expensive in Seoul. The premium red wine from Chile’s Montes Alpha series cost 43,000 won in the South Korean capital, nearly 10 percent more than in Taipei, which trailed at 39,410 won, according to the report.

Whether they are from home or overseas, basic commodities such as meats were also among the high-priced items, as local stores sold beef sirloins from home-bred cows at 106,000 won, surpassing the 90,931 won in Tokyo and the 58,526 won in Beijing. Imported beef sirloins in Seoul was the third most expensive compared with those in other cities.

Nine different types of imported fruits, including bananas, oranges and cherries, also commanded a larger price in Seoul than in most cities elsewhere, the report showed.

Although consumers here expect to have to pay less for imported foods and beverages as a result of the 15 bilateral free trade agreements South Korea has forged with its trade partners, the report said prices have yet to see the downward effect due to the complex distribution system here that often hikes consumer prices.

The price of cherries shipped in from the United States, for instance, has gone down 19 percent since the South Korea-U.S. FTA went into effect in 2012, but the price for consumers has jumped 42.4 percent.

“The country needs to improve its distribution structure so that the actual consumers can benefit from the price cuts made possible from the FTA and lower trade barriers,” an official from Consumer Korea said.

8 Comments

  1. Craig

    January 12, 2015 at 10:34 PM

    One word: Retail monopolies.

    • SJ

      January 12, 2015 at 10:49 PM

      That’s actually two words.

  2. Tatatama

    January 13, 2015 at 12:12 AM

    Well Norway is more expensive, so it’s not the most expensive Americano.

    • Weeza

      January 15, 2015 at 3:25 PM

      I think they mean the most expensive for Starbucks worldwide.

  3. Ali

    January 13, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    Still cheaper than Dubai if you ask me.

  4. Robert

    January 26, 2015 at 5:15 PM

    I don’t know much about the complex distribution side of it, but on the consumer’s side, from what I’ve seen, coffee prices, for example, do not deter consumers in South Korea. The coffee shops are full. Coffee is a “thing”, which people praise here; it’s more about a lifestyle image, i.e., living it up in a coffee shop, than about drinking a tasty social drink to help you wake up. If prices are expensive, and you’re casually sipping it up, it’s even more a statement of your worth. They do not pay for the actual product, but for the lifestyle it represents. That’s the general feeling I got. Everything here, mostly under the new generations, gives a whole new meaning to consumer identity.

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