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Is Korean Food Ready to Go Mainstream?
Bibigo’s London Case
Is Korean Food Ready to Go Mainstream?
  • By matthew
  • August 24, 2015, 03:15
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Bibigo London Soho is the flagship store of U.K. and is a bar and dining restaurant. Bibigo London is beloved for providing menus and services that are familiar to locals.
Bibigo London Soho is the flagship store of U.K. and is a bar and dining restaurant. Bibigo London is beloved for providing menus and services that are familiar to locals.


The first time the Korean government went public about a goal for the globalization of Korean traditional food, or Hansik, was during the Lee Myung-bak administration from 2008–2013. The strategy mainly focused on government-level policy with the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the helm of the initiative, and first lady Kim Yoon-ok as the spokeswoman. However, initial buzz about the so-called Hansik globalization project quickly subsided after the controversy of a government spending spree without any noticeable results. But recently, the years-old vision has rematerialized. However, the process took different routes than what the government envisioned then.

Korean traditional cuisine has started to win the hearts of foreign guests after one of Korea's conglomerates put its full weight and global business management expertise behind promoting Korean cuisine throughout the world. CJ Foodville (CEO Chung Moon-mok), the restaurant arm of the CJ Group, is versed in the global franchise business. Starting in 2004, CJ Foodville oversaw four different global franchise brands such as Tous Les Jours, a bakery franchise; Bibigo, a traditional Korean cuisine restaurant franchise; VIPS, a steak restaurant franchise; and A Twosome Place, a dessert café franchise. As of today, CJ Foodville has made inroads into 10 countries including the U.S., China, Great Britain, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesian and is currently operating 229 overseas restaurants.

[[{"fid":"12474","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Bibigo London Soho has made it into the Michelin Guide.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Bibigo London Soho made it into the prestigious Michelin Guide for two years in a row.","height":451,"width":550,"style":"width: 550px; height: 451px;","class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Bibigo, the traditional Korean cuisine arm of the international conglomerate, has spearheaded the promotion of Korean cuisine and food culture throughout the world by entering into six countries over the last three years since its launch in 2010. Following the opening the first Bibigo restaurant in Korea in May 2010, the company gained a foothold in the global market, opening restaurants in the U.S. and China the same year. In 2012, the first time for a Korean traditional food chain, Bibigo opened a location in the Soho district, the entertainment center of London. One year later, Bibigo Soho had made it into the prestigious Michelin Guide. The fact that Bibigo is listed on the Michelin Guide is highly significant, due to the rigorous standards of reviews by the Guide. The restaurants listed on the Michelin Guide are already deemed to be qualified. Also, it is the first time a Korean franchise restaurant made it onto the Guide’s pages, not to mention a traditional Korean food chain. This achievement also signifies the rising recognition of the Korean culture and the food by the global public. 

CJ Foodville’s marketing strategy in London is particularly noteworthy, featuring an effective combination of localization and standardization strategies. Critics evaluate that Bibigo’s localization strategy in London is the most successful localization model among the overseas Korean food service franchises, featuring a special consideration for local culture.

Given the lack of a competitive edge of Korean labels in developed countries, Bibigo actively engages in the localization of services, interior design, and music without compromising its brand identity. For instance, in the case of the Soho restaurant in London, as a way of attracting British gourmets amid competition with popular and high-end restaurants located in Soho, Bibigo introduced the new concept of bar and dining to attract more British customers familiar with pub culture.

In addition, Bibigo has improved the quality of Korean dishes, in many cases updating their names to make them more familiar to British customers. For instance, Korea’s Soondae was introduced as Black Pudding; and Boongeo Bread, a fish shaped-bread stuffed with red bean paste, was served as a fancy Bibigo Goldfish dessert. The Bibigo restaurant offered a wine list recommended for each Korean dish, and also served a variety of Korean liquors such as Soju Cocktails. The attempt to maintain the authenticity of Korean dishes while still making it easier for British customers to understand and approach them has received a good response.

[[{"fid":"12475","view_mode":"body_image_left","fields":{"format":"body_image_left","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Bossam, steamed pork belly, served at Bibigo.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Bossam, steamed pork belly, served at Bibigo.","height":327,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-left"}}]]Such efforts have led to a feature article on Bibigo and Korean cuisine by influential British newspaper the Independent.

In addition, CJ Foodville worked to place food in the daily lives of the British locals. Bibigo has integrated Korean food brands, covering everything from restaurants to processed food. The strategy intends that customers who first experience Korean food at a Bibigo restaurant can purchase the processed food to enjoy at home.

Its flawless consistency helps Bibigo win the hearts of foreign guests, and in the long run, such efforts have proven to be crucial in building up customer loyalty to the brand. In fact, Bibigo has standardized the whole process from the preparation of ingredients to restaurant operation to enable consistent quality in global expansion.

CJ Foodville effectively utilizes various international events as marketing venues. At the “Festival of 5 Splendid Colors,” a Hallyu cultural Festival held during the 2012 London Olympics, Bibigo served Bibimbap dinners to guests. At the Swiss Davos International Forum held in Jan. 2014, Bibigo offered Bibimbap and Tteokgalbi to the world’s business community, and especially 400 key business and economic leaders. At the “Summer Night with Korean Splendid Dinner” which was held in Jul. 2014, Bibigo propagate the charms of Korean food to 100 VIPs including French Minister Fleur Pellerin.

Bibigo has also sought to do away with their dependence on and focus on catering to Korean tourists and the local Korean community. Rather, Bibigo has focused on and appealed to a major population group. From the very beginning, Bibigo chose the London area, where British locals are concentrated. In fact, more than 80 percent of the regulars of the London branches are British.  

The 2014 annual sales of the London Soho increased 20 percent year-on-year.

The British papers like the Telegraph and the Daily Mail continuously report on the charms of the Korean food. Today, Korean dishes have become fads in the U.K., so much so that there is a television program featuring Korean cuisine. At least in London, Korean cuisine seems poised to go mainstream along with Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Thai cuisines.

When asked about government policy support, a Bibigo spokesperson pointed out hassles caused by restrictions on visas. The Korean nationals posted abroad are required to renew visas frequently, or, in some cases, have to return to Korea, which undermines workflow. The spokesperson said that government-level support is necessary to address these types of issues.