▲ Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min giving a speech during the 3rd Jeju Water Forum. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
The foot and mouth disease pandemic early this year left many Koreans suspicious about the quality of bottled water from wells on the mainland, as millions of pigs and other livestock were buried not far from some key underground aquifers. This ballooned the sales of Jeju bottled water in Korea, as the island was the only province that had managed to avoid the spread of disease.
Even the aftermath of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant resulted in Jeju bottled water selling out. Many Japanese, unsure about the safety of their own fresh water, are looking for alternatives.
The time seems to be ripe for Jeju water to break out of the confinement of domestic success and aim at the global market, and the 3rd Jeju Water Forum was held on May 4 at the Ramada Plaza Jeju Hotel in Jeju City.
In the first half of the forum, key speakers tried to convince the audience as to why Jeju water is so good in the first place.
Yoo Ho Jin, Chosun University School of Medicine professor, said that in lab tests on mice he found Jeju water had significantly better effects in reducing adiponectin levels in subjects compared to other bottled waters. Adiponectin is a protein hormone directly related to the increase of fat cells in the human body.
Jeju water’s positive influence in suppressing obesity was corroborated by a Chinese research team headed by Shanghai Jia Tong University Professor Yong X. Wang, who said, “Jeju ground-water significantly reduced high-fat diet-increased liver weight,” whereas Wahaha, Nongfu spring water, and Evian, the competing bottled waters, had no consistent effects on reducing body fat.
Other researchers also discussed the positive impact of Jeju water in preventing atopic dermatitis and diabetes.
Why is Jeju water so good at preventing obesity and other diseases?
Yoon Sung Taek, professor at Korea University Green School, concluded that high levels of desirable chemicals such as vanadium and silicon dioxide in Jeju’s water may be responsible for such positive results. According to his research, the level of silicon dioxide and vanadium, elements which are often found in water under volcanic terrain, was much higher in Jeju’s water than in other competing bottled waters from Korea and abroad.
During the latter half of the forum, much of the discussion revolved around ways to expand Jeju water’s presence in the global market.
A beer brewed from Jeju water, barley and other local crops was singled out as a promising commercial application for Jeju’s water.
Carl Kins, group business continuity manager at KBC Bank, noted that “Jeju water is excellent for hoppy lager beer.” He suggested differentiating Jeju beer from other brands by mixing local herbs and spices, which is what Boris de Mesones, owner of the first microbrewery on the island, has been striving to do. De Mesones proposed mixing the flavor of Jeju citrus in the beer and branding it uniquely by applying a symbolic Jeju image to the beer — haenyeo (women sea divers) for example.
The infusion of Jeju’s unique local culture as well as local produce and ingredients was repeatedly recommended by other German brewery experts.
The potential applications of Jeju water are many, but bottled water should remain a flagship brand in the global market for a while, Lee Joon Yeon, senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLC advised in the opening keynote speech.
Lee stated that Jeju is not well known outside Korea, and it will take time and investment before the brand of Jeju water finds its place globally. Intense focus on the marketing of Jeju bottled water is the only viable strategy for now, he stressed. Once Jeju bottled water establishes global brand equity, it could help sell other derivative products made of Jeju water.
What would be the best strategy to promote Jeju water without huge investments?
Lee advised the use of celebrity endorsements. Many world leaders and Korean entertainers frequent the island. Let them drink Jeju water and use that image to market the product, he suggested.
“Though Jeju water scored a blockbuster success in the domestic market,” Lee warned, Jeju should leave behind fond memories of this success because it will take a lengthy concerted effort of the entire Jeju community to replicate it in the global market.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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