CJ rises as beacon of Korean food, shopping and pop
When CheilJedang spun off from Samsung Group in 1993, not many expected this food company to grow into a major conglomerate encompassing retail and entertainment businesses as well.
With food service, bio-pharmaceuticals, entertainment and media, home shopping and logistics as its core businesses, the CJ Group, launched in 1996, has shown remarkable growth and change over the past 20 years.
Its history dates back to when its founder Lee Byung-chull built a sugar mill in Busan amid the devastation of the Korean War. The company entered the artificial seasoning product market in 1963, with Mipoong vying against then-best-seller Miwon of Daesang.
CJ developed mass-production techniques for a seasoning product called "Dashida" in 1975 and nucleic acid for the first time in South Korea two years later, which became a stepping stone for the seasoning industry. Dashida, which came in beef, fish and anchovy flavours, was a gustatory delight for ordinary Koreans who weren't well off. In the 1980s, CJ expanded to processed food items such as beverages and frozen foods, and entered the pharmaceutical business based on new advanced technologies. CJ Korea Express and CJ GLS have been serving as the neural network of CJ's global business by handling international logistics for all of its affiliates. Having exported Korea's quick delivery system to India, Vietnam and Thailand, CJ GLS plans to expand service across all of Thailand by 2016.
The company reached out to overseas markets in the 1990s by building lysine and synthetic seasoning plants in Indonesia. CJ introduced the nation's first multiplex theatres CJ CGV in 1998 and acquired a home-shopping channel in 1999 to create CJ O Shopping, South Korea's top home-shopping network, and changed its name to CJ in 2002. The group established a holding company in 2007, launched CJ E&M in 2010, and acquired Korea Express in 2011.
The company with annual sales of 1 trillion won (Bt27 billion) when it spun off from Samsung Group has now become a conglomerate targeting 33 trillion won in sales this year.
"Only One" is a key motto of CJ Group, especially when it enters a new business or develops a new product.
Determined to create unique products and content, CJ pioneered the instant cooked rice and hangover drink markets with Hetbahn and Condition.
In the bio business, CJ retains its lead in the global market for amino acids used in animal feed thanks to having the world's top production technologies. With its "Only One" technological prowess, CJ makes more than 1 trillion won in yearly sales from the market, which had previously been dominated by Japanese companies, and targets over 2 trillion won in sales this year.
Having set 2013 as the starting year of innovation to achieve its vision for "Great CJ" by 2020, the group is speeding up efforts for global expansion. By that year, the conglomerate aims to reach sales of 100 trillion won, 70 per cent of which will come from abroad, and become the world's No 1 in at least two of its four core businesses.
Aiming to establish itself as a "global company that creates culture" by spreading hallyu worldwide through food culture and cultural content, CJ is reaching out beyond Asia and North America to Europe.
Since opening a Tous les Jours store in Los Angeles in 2004, it has opened more in China and Vietnam where it maintains double-digit sales growth each year. The bakery brand also launched in New York.
Bibimbap restaurant Bibigo, which has opened in Los Angeles, Beijing and Singapore since 2010, opened its first store in London in July last year, grabbing attention during the London Olympics.
"Spreading the Korean food culture worldwide by making bibimbap a global brand would not only contribute towards CJ's growth but also raise Korea's national brand image," a CJ official said.
Other dining brands such as VIPS and A Twosome Place are increasing stores across Asia, mostly in China and Vietnam.
CJ O Shopping found its growth engine abroad from the very beginning. Starting with China in 2004, it entered India in 2009, Japan and Vietnam in 2011, and Thailand and Turkey last year.