SEOUL, South Korea — Ramyeon is a ubiquitous part of Korean dining culture. It’s an affordable meal for a busy life on the Peninsula. It’s eaten by Korean presidents and beggars alike. It’s shipped all over the world as a delicious and cheap symbol of Korean (and Japanese) manufacturing ingenuity. Ramyeon is food for the masses. Which is why it comes as a surprise to this writer that its four biggest manufactures in Korea have been fixing the price on Korea’s sacred snack –for eleven years.
Prices on varied brands of instant noodles since 2001. Coincidence? Nah.
Arirang is reporting that four Korean ramyeon makers have been charged with collusion and fined by the Korean Fair Trade Commission for allegedly scheming together to raise the price of ramyeon by more than 50% over the last decade.
The companies involved in fixing prices were: Nong-Shim, Sam-Yang, Otoogi and Yakult. All companies involved deny they are guilty of collusion.
koreaBANG says that beginning in 2001, the companies, directed via email by industry-leader, Nong-Shim, began to steadily increase the price of their ramyeon products, in one week to six month increments as to not raise suspicion from consumers and regulators.
For their mistakenly 'clever' plan, at which they got caught, the noodle makers were fined a reported $119.6 million dollars by the Korean Fair Trade Commission.
According to a Korea Times op-ed, the companies have earned over $1.2 billion dollars in revenue since the scam began.
Korean Fair Trade officials have sent a message to chaebols that collusion will result in a small fine, but not much else. If you look at the amount of profit that the companies made from fixing prices and the amount of money that they were actually fined, you can see that crime really does pay if you’re a big company in Korea. If even lowly ramyeon companies have no trouble screwing consumers over, it raises the question: what other Korean chaebols are colluding to bilk consumers out of their hard-earned cash?