South Korea Business Report

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Fusing art, culture and taste, Crown-Haitai brings bliss to generations of confectionery lovers

South Korean confectioner produces sweets that trigger all five senses and is seeking new partnerships with snack companies in China or other Southeast Asian markets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 10:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 10:49am

Artistic quotient (AQ) is a management philosophy based on creativity and artistry. There is one company that mastered this skill to deliver emotion and happiness to customers through the fusion of snacks and art. That company is no other than Crown-Haitai Confectionery & Foods.

Rooted in a country that preserves and develops traditional culture and has a highly artistic heritage, Crown-Haitai is leading in art management by combining traditional music, sculpture, poetry, and other forms of art in its corporate management.

At its core is Yoon Young-dal, chairman of Crown-Haitai. Yoon is a pioneer and leader of “AQ management” among Korean companies.

By integrating art with management, Yoon strives to transform confectioneries from being a simple snack, to becoming a pleasant consumption experience that triggers all five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch), and meets customers’ desire for artistic sensibility.

One of the cornerstones of South Korea’s snack market, Crown-Haitai has become a local household name that is loved by all for its delicious biscuits, chips, pies, candies, ice cream, and more. It has started to carve its name yet again, not just in confectioneries, but for its valuable contribution to arts as a cultural philanthropist, through the company’s art-focused management strategies and various art sponsorships.

As a businessman, Yoon considers customer satisfaction and happiness as a primary objective.

However, the chairman believes that the first step to achieving this motivation is to inspire employees by improving their creativity. And what better way to nurture imagination than expressing it through art? This inspired Yoon to fuse art management into Crown-Haitai’s business strategy.

“We believe that we deliver happiness through our snacks. Before happiness reaches our customers, it must be experienced by our employees, and we feel that we can achieve this by building their artistry,” Yoon says. “In stoking their ‘artistic quotient’, Crown-Haitai inspires them to connect to customers in a much deeper and more meaningful way.”

Crown-Haitai lets its employees express themselves artistically in three areas of their choice: art (sculpture), music (traditional Korean music) and literature (poetry).

Sculpture, traditional music and poetry

The company stumbled on its artistic strategy quite by accident when the chairman visited one of Crown-Haitai’s shops only to discover that snow had blocked the entrance access to the store. It was only when the employees had cleared the snow that customers start entering the shop again. This left unattractive snow piles around the shop’s entrance. The idea of making something beautiful out of the icy heaps gave birth to Crown-Haitai’s iconic snow sculptures.

Observing how this activity made employees and customers happy, Crown-Haitai started offering monetary incentives to further encourage sculpting. The company even provided artistic trainings with professional sculptors for the employees to lend a more professional touch to the sculptures.

Aiming to showcase its employees’ talent to a wider audience, Crown-Haitai displayed the sculptures – totalling about 1,000 – in partner shops. To date, Crown-Haitai is home to 21 snow sculpture specialists and offers a variety of support for employees’ sculpting activities.

“Our customers love our sculptures and taking pictures of them. Especially in places where there’s no snow such as Busan, the customers are fascinated with the snow sculptures. In providing them with new experiences that are not directly related to our products, it has become a new way for us to connect to them,” Yoon says.

On August 8 this year, Crown-Haitai presented its Midsummer Night Snow Sculpture Exhibition, the world’s first large-scale summer snow sculpture event, at Gwanghwamun in Seoul. Some 600 employees made 300 sculptures that day, and the event was certified by Guinness World Records.

With its products stimulating the public’s sense of taste and its sculptures offering a veritable visual feast, Crown-Haitai endeavoured to appeal to another sensory experience: hearing. This is where the company’s expertise in traditional Korean music comes in.

When Crown Confectionery was facing financial difficulties in the late 1990s, Yoon discovered Korean traditional music for the first time. Not only was he impressed and moved by the melodies, the encounter also opened new possibilities for artistic management.

In order to spread the beauty of traditional music to a wider audience, Yoon staged a traditional gugak performance for stakeholders, partners and suppliers. The traditional music moved the audience much more than expected. Customers were deeply touched by the performance and started to actively support the company so that it could overcome its financial difficulties.

Our company is built on the philosophy that food is the foundation of life
Yoon Young-dal, chairman, Crown-Haitai

Back on its feet, thanks to the overwhelming support of its customers, Crown-Haitai and Yoon introduced more traditional Korean music performances. One such event is the Gifted Korean Music Club, which offers children studying traditional Korean music the opportunity to perform and learn. More than just a moment to share sweets, traditional Korean music gives families an unforgettable artistic experience.

Yoon was able to overcome the corporate crisis to grow Crown-Haitai into the best confectionery company in South Korea through its art management strategy that conveys artistic expression and happiness.

One key success of this strategy is to create a way to hone musical talents among Crown-Haitai employees and younger generations of Korean classical musicians.

In 2007, Yoon established the Korean Traditional Music Orchestra in South Korea. The orchestra presents traditional performances during Korean holidays such as the New Year’s Day or Chuseok.

In addition, it performs notable traditional Korean music performances at the Gwanghwamun Square and Sejong Culture & Arts Center, such as the Seoul Arirang Festival and Changshin Festival. The orchestra celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and performed at the Seoul Namsan Gugakdang. Showcasing Pansori Shim Chung-ga in Korean traditional music style, the concert was a tremendous success and an important opportunity for young Korean classical musicians.

In recognition of his contribution to Korean culture and arts, Yoon won the 2011 Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award.

Valuing all forms of artistic expression, Crown-Haitai recognised the power of words and how they can also paint beautiful and powerful images. Yoon took time to recite good poems at various company gatherings and soon, employees had to recite poems as a form of toasting.

At first, employees memorised the pieces from other poets. But as time went on, they started making their own. Nurturing its employees’ artistic psyche and interest in poetry, Crown-Haitai invited famous Korean poets to provide bi-weekly trainings. They compiled the best poems in collections that are published and sold in bookstores nationwide. The artistry and creativity accumulated while writing poems has also become a great asset in marketing and elevating the company’s brand equity.

Bullish about Asian expansion

A well and artistically motivated workforce pushes Crown-Haitai to be ahead of the game. With a rich corporate culture of creativity, the company is committed to delivering new tastes and snacks to clients.

In 2014, South Korea was gripped by the Honey Butter Chips craze. The addicting crunchy, salty and sweet treat was practically flying off shelves and had everyone running towards the nearest convenience store that stocked it.

Honey Butter Chips have become such a hot commodity that they are sold in e-commerce sites at much higher prices. In the history of Korean snacks, no product had ever received so much attention and love. Crown-Haitai powered this megatrend in cooperation with Japanese snack company Calbee.

The company was established in 1947 as family-run Youngildang Bakery. The name was changed to Crown Confectionery in 1956. Some of its brands include Heim wafers, Couque D’asse cookies, Jolly Pong puffed grains, Mychew soft candies, Honey Butter Chips, Oh Yes, Home Run Ball and Ivy.

“Our company is built on the philosophy that food is the foundation of life. We use safe, high-quality ingredients to make good food for our children,” Yoon says.

The company pursued partnerships with other snack manufacturers to ease knowledge exchange. In 2005, it acquired another pioneering South Korean snack company Haitai Confectionery. The acquisition strengthened its capacity as it integrated common business units and commercial sales networks.

Crown-Haitai believes that it can provide customers with new tastes and experiences by incorporating AQ management with its time-tested techniques and accumulated technologies. This belief led to the development of Honey Butter Chips, which became an amazing success.

Looking outside the company, Crown-Haitai aims to partner with snack companies that can share new ways to spice up its product portfolio and to tailor snacks for specific markets. With these strategic relationships, Crown-Haitai aims to open its manufacturing facilities to partners, and vice-versa, to create new snacks.

“With our partnership with Japan’s Calbee, we were able to further diversify our products by introducing Japanese flavours. We look forward to establishing joint ventures in China or other Southeast Asian markets,” Yoon says. “We seek win-win partnerships by converting competitive relationships into cooperative ones.”

Asian markets are crucial for Crown-Haitai as its sales in the region grow as much as 10 per cent each year. Over the past five years, exports have continued to grow, with Asia accounting for almost 50 per cent of the company’s total exports. This is due to its localisation strategy, which regards each market as one-of-a-kind and offers products that best suit the market.

Crown-Haitai has not established overseas subsidiaries yet, but produces and exports all products from South Korea. It plans to build an online platform for a broader customer base. Partnerships are also expected to play an important role in the possible establishment of local production plants in international markets.

Crown-Haitai hopes to share its artistic and business management strategies through effective partnerships.