▲ Hong Oh Sung, chairman of Fresh Jeju Inc. Photo courtesy Jeju-sori. Left, some of the tangerine ice cream products his company sells locally and overseas. Photo by J. Hahn
How many ways can you think of to eat a tangerine? One? Two? Well, Hong Oh Sung, the chairman of Fresh Jeju Inc. came up with a way to utilize tangerines that may have otherwise gone literally down the drain. He has been in the business for 34 years and regards himself as a mom-and-pop small shop owner at heart.
“Jeju is the capital of tangerines,” Hong said. “It is only right that we should develop and make use of the tangerines in as many ways as possible to save the tangerine farmers.”
Every year, Jeju farmers go through a dilemma whether to go on harvesting this fruit or not since it is not yielding as much profit as it used to. There are about 1,000 or so small and big enterprises that deal with the sale of the tangerines but they can only sell these fruits for a short period of time and only at a certain time of the year.
Hong thought long and hard to see if there was any way it could be sold throughout the year and he hit upon the idea of applying a little technology with a twist and Jeju tangerine ice cream was born.
However, the process to actually make the tangerine into a frozen dessert was not easy. The first problem he encountered had to do with the machines that peeled the fruit. It did the job but was not able to remove the other unnecessary parts from the inside of the tangerine. Doing it by hand would have demanded too much labor cost. He invented a machine and made a prototype in 2009 which would peel the outer skin and extract just the pure pulp and liquid from the fruit.
Most people scoffed at his idea in the beginning, he said but with patience and a firm belief that this was the way to go, he doggedly carried on by conducting research and he found that most ice creams in Korea were 70 percent water plus additives and flavors occupying the rest in terms of the ingredients. He wanted his tangerine frozen dessert to have at least 80 percent tangerine liquid and pulp but later reduced the amount to 60 percent due to technical reasons. Even after all this effort, no one took any notice, he said. He then decided to hold a large scale tasting session by inviting about 250 people from the press and academia last December.
“Everyone who tasted it at the event agreed that it was going to be a big hit. They were amazed as to how delicious it was,” Hong said.
Using his connections with about 45 distributors throughout the nation and also his long-time overseas contacts, he received positive responses from Guam and the United States. He said he has also been contacted by the State of Texas and New York State and is in the process of negotiations. In contrast, the domestic market distributors showed hesitation. He went to see the Agricultural Association and other government departments but was met with lukewarm responses. He still feels frustrated about this. At present, the only places that the Jeju tangerine ice cream is being sold domestically are at King Mart and the King Store chain.
There are currently three forms of the Jeju tangerine ice cream being offered (a sandwich, a popsicle, and a squeeze bottle) at 1,500 won for the ice cream sandwich and 800 won for the other two. Each frozen dessert has an equivalent nutritional amount of two tangerines, Hong said. Taking into account that it is an organic product, when asked if he considered raising the price, Hong replied that it would not be competitively marketable. He stressed that he is not a producer but a salesman and his aim is to see that these tangerine products receive positive consumer responses.
He signed an agreement with L.A.-based Woojin Trading in July of this year to export about 240 tons every year for the next five years and on Aug. 12, a 22 ton container with the Jeju tangerine ice cream will be exported to Los Angeles and be distributed to about 21 major supermarkets for the first time in the products history.
Hong concluded by saying “I started all this so that the small indigenous shops can survive in this day and age. It is not only for my own profit, as some people might think, and unless the Jeju government or the Agricultural Association starts having a hand in it, I don’t think [tangerine products] will expand or prosper any further.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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