VeryGood-Food’s Rice Snack advances into USA market
1200 tons of Rice Used Annually on Production of Ssal-gangjeong and Nurungji
Many Koreans in their 40s and older have a common memory from their childhood years: visiting a traditional market and seeing a machine there that popped out twibap with a bursting pop sound. Twibap is similar to western popcorn. It refers to popped grains such as rice and corn. In the olden days, twibap was made by putting grains into a hot, sealed container; closing the lid; and heating the container for a certain time. When the lid was finally opened again, the pressure inside the container would cause a tremendously loud pop sound, which took passers-by aback.
Children were watching fearfully with their hands covering their ears, and, when the grain popped out, they would pick the grains that flew outside of the collecting bag. In those days, few Korean households had enough food, so twibap was considered a superb snack in and of itself. The better-off families made gangjeong (sweet rice puffs) with ssal-twibap (rice-based twibap) by adding beans, sesame seeds, and other ingredients to the popped rice; covering the mixture with starch syrup; and hardening it in a certain shape. The gangjeong for seniors or children was only made with popped rice. Called ssal-gangjeong (crunchy rice rollers), it boasted a sweet taste that won the hearts of everyone.
Equipped with a Mass Production System…Uses Natural Food Ingredients
As the development of the food industry led to a variety of new refreshments on the market, the traditional ssal-gangjeong became one of the gradually vanishing snacks. The preferences of modern people changed to hot, spicy, and zesty flavors; and foods with such flavors flooded into the market. As a result, ssal-gangjeong was regarded as somewhat of an outdated product of the past.
However, since the 2000s, more and more people started to realize that the artificial additives in modern foods can be harmful to their health, and, on this wave, ssal-gangjeong started to attract new attention. Concerned about their children’s healthy growth, parents opted for ssal-gangjeong as a confectionery for their kids. The older generation welcomed the trend as a reminder of a cherished memory, and companies with systems for mass production of the snack sprang up. Among such companies is VeryGood-Food, located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Its main products are Ssal-gangjeong and Nurungji (a snack made of roasted rice that sticks to the bottom of a pot).
The company makes Ssal-gangjeong by adding rice syrup and seaweed extract into popped rice and mixing it all together. Rice syrup is a natural food that is prepared by mixing rice and barley with sugar, simmering the mixture, and leaving it to ferment. It goes without saying that the Ssal-gangjeong of VeryGood-Food is a nutritious snack because it retains all the natural properties of the key ingredients of the traditional crunchy rice rollers.
“To get Ssal-gangjeong recognized as a healthy food, we use raw sugar which is not bleached for the rice syrup,” says Lee Dong-soo, CEO of the VeryGood-Food. “Consequently, our company’s Ssal-gangjeong is close to nature in that it contains a very low level of fat and is free of cholesterol.” He adds, “According to historical sources, our ancestors started to make Ssal-gangjeong some 1,500 years ago, so it a traditional Korean food with a long history.” He emphasized that the company does not use artificial additives for coloring and flavor, so consumers can enjoy the product without worrying about food safety issues.
50 Percent of Ssal-gangjeong Products Are Exported Overseas
Currently, VeryGood-Food is exporting 50 percent of its Ssal-gangjeong products. The main market is the US, where the company supplies all of the products to Costco, a large distributor. The response of American consumers has been fairly positive. Americans are interested in Asian cereals because local producers offer a lot of meat products and few cereals. The feeling of satiety after having Ssal-gangjeong makes it a proper snack for those who worry about gaining weight. What’s more, the rice rollers are considered suitable for patients in hospitals. When put in the mouth, Ssal-gangjeong gradually melts down and is easy to swallow, so it is convenient for the people in hospital beds.
VeryGood-Food attained the ISO 22000 standard, which is an international standard for food safety management systems, in order to gain credibility overseas. The company also acquired the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) to display to American buyers its strong will for supplying safer foods. FSSC 22000 is an international certification acknowledged by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and sponsored by the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of EU (CIAA). It is an international standard for global companies and requires not only meeting the requirements of ISO 22000 (which most businesses obtain), but also passing Publicly Available Specification 220 (PAS 220).
Mr. Lee says, “With the international certifications required to manufacture safe foods, we have achieved recognition as a global company among American consumers. Recently, cheaper and similar goods started being distributed as well, but we still export about 15 40-feet containers of the product worth USD$3 million every year.”
Snack-style Nurungji, Easy to Eat!
The Nurungji of VeryGood-Food is another steady seller both at home and abroad. The method the company used to scorch its Nurungji is the same as that of the Korean ancestors. Rice is spread thinly in a Korean traditional pot and scorched until it becomes crispy and smells like roasted nuts. The company’s researchers put in a lot of effort to find a way to make Nurungji softer and thus edible as a snack anytime you want it. They discovered that if a layer of rice is heated simultaneously above and underneath, it forms double bubbles that make the Nurungji softer and crispier. With the product, busy modern people can quickly make breakfast by boiling Nurungji. During outside activities, you can make a delicious meal by just macerating the product in hot water for three minutes. Presently, the company’s Nurungji is exported through large distributors to the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries.
Lee Dong-soo said, “Although we have accumulated a lot of know-how about making Ssal-gangjeong and Nurungji, what we think most important is to produce them with good quality ingredients. Thus, to make these products, we use 1,000 tons of select Korean rice and 200 tons of imported rice every year.” He continued, “The goal of VeryGood-Food is to develop nutritious cereal bars with rice, whole grains, and nuts for seniors, sick people, or children.”