Runaway Inflation for Fruits and Vegetables

Green scallion became a source of embarrassment for Yoon Suk-yeol.

Runaway Inflation for Fruits and Vegetables

Photo: President Yoon Suk-yeol (center) reviews the suspiciously low price of scallions. Credit: Presidential press pool.

Inflation may be easing in other parts of the world, but not South Korea - especially for key consumer items such as fruits and vegetables. The price increases have been nothing short of shocking: the price of apples rose by 121.9% year-on-year, while the price of tangerines rose by 154.9%. On social networks, incredulous shoppers are sharing photos of a single apple priced at KRW 19.8k (USD 14.73).

The runaway inflation in fruit and vegetable prices has been driven by a number of factors. Climate change and a poor harvest for 2023 due to summer storms caused a drop in production that is being felt this year. Exacerbating matters is South Korea’s ban on the import of certain fruits, including apples and tangerines, as a protectionist measure. The country’s distribution system for food, which permits wholesalers to hold food in storage to capitalize on scarcity, has also contributed to the steep rise in food costs.

The skyrocketing cost of food is becoming a major liability for President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 and the ruling People Power Party 국민의힘 as the General Election 총선 approaches. In a staged visit to a supermarket, Yoon appeared to downplay the effects of inflation by picking up a bundle of scallions and saying: “I do a lot of grocery shopping, and KRW 875 (USD 0.65) seems like a reasonable price.” But scallions have typically been selling for between KRW 4k and 7k (USD 3.00 to 5.20) a bundle; the supermarket that Yoon visited just happened to be running a suspiciously well-timed promotion on scallions.

Yoon’s attempt at Potemkin Produce quickly became fodder for mockery. On the General Election campaign trail, the Democratic Party chairman Lee Jae-myung 이재명 민주당 대표 held up a bundle of scallions at a rally: “I heard the president can buy a bundle of scallions for KRW 875. So I thought maybe the opposition leader could buy one for KRW 900. Turns out, this cost KRW 3,900.”

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