WASHINGTON — With the United States coming in at No. 1 in terms of agricultural imports to South Korea — to the tune of $10.4 billion in 2022, according to Trade Data Monitor, LLC — the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has identified the country as a key export opportunity for several commodities and finished goods. Agricultural imports to the country continue to benefit from the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement inked in 2012, and this improved market access is also promising for the US pet food industry.

According to the report, South Korean pet owners are seeking out high-quality pet food that delivers optimal nutrition and supports wellbeing, and brands in the United States are well-positioned to meet this demand.

Global pet food imports to South Korea reached $347 million in 2022, up 45% from $239 million in 2018. While the United States is the top agricultural importer to the country, China holds the top spot in terms of pet food imports with 30% market share. The United States holds approximately 21% share of the South Korean pet food market, followed by Thailand at 13%.

Pet ownership trends in the country bode well for continued pet food importation, with the cat population growing 4% in 2023 and the dog population maintaining a slower but steady annual growth rate of up to 3% since 2019. According to Euromonitor International, urbanization and the rise of single- and two-person households is fueling growth of the cat population.

Wet dog food was mentioned as a key opportunity as popularity of the format grows among South Korean pet owners. However, the country has not been spared by inflationary pressures, and retail prices for dog food are up as much as 20% across the country. This begets cautious spending on pet food products.

“Nevertheless, the outlook for South Korea is more positive for 2024 and beyond with hopes that an economic recovery in China will provide a boost to South Korean exports, and private consumption and investment will gradually rebound,” the report stated.

With duty-free tariff status, US dog and cat food exports to South Korea paint a promising picture for international distribution of American-made pet nutrition products.

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