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Growing success: How Unilever International tripled sales in South Korea

What’s fuelling Unilever International’s remarkable success in South Korea? For Yonggweon Ji, Unilever International’s Korea Country Head, it’s all about understanding the driving forces that power this unique market. We caught up with him to find out more.


From K-pop and film to K-beauty and fashion, South Korean cultural exports are making waves all over the globe. But what does it take to succeed in South Korea’s home market?

“Innovation, investment in talent and e-commerce,” says Yonggweon Ji, South Korea Country Head, Unilever International.

Since entering South Korean market in 2019, Unilever International has not only tripled sales but also established market leadership with Dove, Pond’s and Vaseline products.

“When Unilever International, Unilever’s global business unit with its expertise in white space markets, took on the South Korea business in 2019, we decided to start with a clean slate and a highly targeted brand-channel approach,” he remembers.

Why innovation is key in South Korea

South Korea, the fourth-largest economy among Asian countries, is a high-spending society, a consumer trendsetter for Asia and an extremely competitive market for consumer packaged goods (CPGs).

“The most important thing to remember about this market is that South Korean consumers are early adopters and constantly want to stay on-trend,” explains Yonggweon.

“They like exploring new product formats and formulations in almost every category and are motivated by influencers to use new products.”

For example, Pond’s, with its new cleansing oil, saw over 20% increase in sales growth between January and August 20231 after it was promoted by beauty influencer Dams Beauty to her 32,000 followers.

“It’s all about triggering consumer excitement with share-worthy marketing,” says Yonggweon.

During the launch of Snuggle’s fabric conditioner, for example, the team put a giant version of the brand’s trademark teddy bear into an Olive Young store, the country’s top health and beauty retailer.

“It became a consumer magnet. Everyone was taking selfies with the teddy,” he says.

Investing in talent

The key to this kind of marketable social media exposure is a real-time understanding of what consumers are tracking.

For Yonggweon the best way to keep up to speed in this fast-moving market is by hiring people who can identify with the core consumer.

“Investing in young local talent is the best way to follow the needs of the generation who are the driving force behind major consumer trends,” he says, explaining how Unilever International’s South Korean team is powering the business’s new, and very successful, approach to marketing and channel management.

South Korea e-commerce strategy

One area this growing team is focusing on is Korea’s formidable e-commerce market, which is currently one of the biggest worldwide.

“During the pandemic we focused on developing our e-commerce business,” says Yonggweon. “We worked on getting more promotion slots and improving profitability through price management.”

The approach clearly worked.

Since October 2019, Unilever International has achieved exponential growth through e-commerce which now drives the majority of its business sales across two main channels: Coupang and omni-channel (Olive Young and E-Mart Group).

The road ahead

With 60% of its innovations locally manufactured, Unilever International is also cementing rock-solid sourcing foundations for the business and is now looking to tap into a new growth space.

“We are continuing our partnership with Lipton Teas & Infusions and are working closely with the Beauty & Wellness business group to launch new innovations,” says Yonggweon.

“Given South Korea’s thriving premium beauty market, this is very exciting news for the future of our business.”

1 Compared to the same period in 2022.

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