North Korea’s small businesses in the food sector are being threatened by large-scale, state-run processed food manufacturers, who in recent months have been flooding local markets in the provinces with instant noodles and other snack products, RFA sources say.
“As we enter December, Pyongsong Market is getting tons of [several different kinds of] instant noodles, and crème-filled bread from Pyongyang,” a source from South Pyongan Province told RFA’s Korean Service on Sunday.
“Large quantities of so many different kinds of food products are being dumped on the provinces at wholesale prices!” the source added.
“Demand for [these types of] processed food products will likely increase, since [there will be] many end of year parties, and it seems like Pyongyang’s food firms are trying to take advantage of the provincial food markets,” said the source.
“If snacks from Pyongyang keep pouring into [the provinces], people who run noodle stalls, bakeries and [other food businesses] will lose out,” the source said.
(not) Boiling resentment
The source talked extensively about a product developed recently, byonsong kuksu. It is a type of instant noodle made of corn that can be prepared and ready to eat using just cold water.
“Byonsong kuksu was developed in the early 2000s by a state-run firm’s food technologists out in the provinces. Rich people invested in the product,” the source said, adding, “It became quite a hit with busy working women because they could save time by not having to boil water to cook the noodles. They only need to soak it in cold water and they can eat it with kimchi.”
“A trading company then installed the equipment [needed to manufacture the product] in a Pyongyang food factory a few years ago and then they began making byonsong kuksu there,” the source said.
“People are now very critical of that company, saying they took the achievement of the provincial factory for nothing. Now they distribute huge quantities of byonsong kuksu in the provinces with the Pyongyang-based company’s name on the packaging,” said the source.
Another source, based in North Pyongan Province said, “People like noodles for [quick] meals. It’s one of the most popular products in the local markets.”
“If all these Pyongyang noodles keep flooding provincial areas, small businesses and people who make their living off the sale of noodles will suffer,” the source said.
Profits over people
“Trading companies are building more food factories in Pyongyang these days. People are resentful of the central trading companies because they are too concerned with making profits without considering the effect this has on people out in the provinces,” the source said.
“By distributing all these food, medical and cosmetic products, they are threatening the livelihoods of ordinary people, and the companies that do this are run by the ruling party or the military,” the source said.
“Since they are unable to make enough foreign cash from trading, they monopolize domestic distribution networks to the point that ordinary people’s livelihoods are at stake!,” said the source.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.