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H-Mart changes American diet, leads grocery trend

Posted June. 13, 2024 09:41,   

Updated June. 13, 2024 09:41


The New York Times named Korean retailer H-Mart as the birthplace of the 'K-ramen syndrome' on Tuesday, as more than 500 million units of Shin Ramyun were sold in the U.S. last year. H-Mart, which has stores across the U.S., played a primary role in the process of Korean food entering the American mainstream market. The daily wrote, “Don't just call H-Mart an ‘exotic grocery store.’ It's shaking up American eating habits and the American retail industry.”

H-Mart has grown to a $2 billion company with 96 stores across the U.S. from a 260-square-meter grocery store in Queens, New York City founded in 1982 by Chairman Kwon Joong-kap, a native of Yecheon, North Gyeongsang Province, Korea.

Since then, H-Mart's growth has been fueled by a significant increase in the Asian population in the U.S. In 1980, Asians comprised only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population (about 3.5 million people), but by 2020, they had grown to 7.2 percent (about 24 million people).

The store also attracts a lot of non-Asian shoppers. “One in three of our recent customers is non-Asian,” said H-Mart Chairman Brian Kwon. This is mainly due to the popularity of Korean food content on social media, including TikTok and YouTube. “It's now strange to not see ramen at a college dorm, a Latino bar, or a Walmart in the Midwest (where the Asian population is small),” the New York Times reported.

Considering that H-Mart and other Korean-American stores still account for less than 1 percent of the total U.S. retail industry, this is a significant achievement, meaning that despite their small market share, they have become trendsetters.

이지윤 jino@donga.com