bright Belly CEO Jem Kim is producing home ready meals that prove that plant-based menus do not have to be boring or repetitive.
Alex Jensen and Jem, discuss the growth in the plant-based industry. As she says, “The market in Korea in Korea is not just growing, its exploding. There’s so much more awareness for plant-based food. When I tell people that we are going into a lot of the major retailers, they say,” Oh my god, I didn’t know that was you, we didn’t know that that was plant-based. So, I think that’s why we see the business growing. Over the next couple of years there’s going to be a lot more growth, and it’s just great to be a part of it.”
The company, bright Belly is not aiming to turn all of us to 100% vegans or vegetarians. Instead she offers quality food for anyone who would like to reduce the amount of meat they eat, without giving up variety, taste or convivence.
Jem and Alex, also take a moment to step back and join the dots of Jem’s extraordinary career. From journalist, to corporate recruitment strategist, and now to startup CEO, Jem is able now to look at the threads that join all of these in the way that Steve Jobs famously did in his Stanford Commencement Speech.
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Alex Jenson 0:08
You’re listening to koreabizcast with the KBLA. It’s Tuesday, March 29. And I’m your host, Alex Jensen. Just before I continue here, I also want to say thank you very much to the Four Seasons Hotel soul for making today’s episode possible, offering stylish elegance in the very heart of the city. But let’s continue. If you’re familiar with a popular academic, Yuval Noah Harare, you may be aware that he previously predicted that in the future, people will have to reinvent their careers up to six times. And that’s a point that was raised at the start of this week. In a Korea Times op ed under the title, embracing uncertainty by one of our former podcast guests, Dulwich College Seoul, head of college, Gudmundur Hegner Jonsson, formerly an archaeologist and classical singer. And what he wrote was at the forefront of my mind when I was considering our next guest, Jem Kim, who like Mr. Jonsson has already shifted a number of times through her own career journey, and also like him has previously appeared on our podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time once again.
Jem Kim 1:11
Hey, Alex, thanks for having me.
Alex Jenson 1:13
And previously, we spoke to you as a reporter, you’ve been working in the journalism space, you’ve been working for Coupang, you are part of this great resignation trend over the last few months, something that’s really taken US by storm, with millions of people quitting their jobs every month. And that’s a trend that’s continued into 2022, by the way, but you have made the great return as well as CEO of brite belly, which is a plant based food company. We’re going to hear all about that as well. Can you start maybe by charting your journey from great resignation to great return?
Jem Kim 1:47
Right? Well, when I first quit my job at Coupang, I think there were a lot of people who were very much concerned for me, because again, I think I mentioned this last time it was months ago, I believe, when we did that podcast regarding the great resignation, the big quit. And I remember that there were a lot of people around me who are very worried, you know, your woman in your 40s? Are you going to be able to get another job? Why did you quit your job when you haven’t had another job lined up? And you know, for me, too, it was quite, it was frightening, to be honest. Because again, for me, too, it was the first time that I had left something behind without having another, you know, another opportunity lined up, I had just that was just the way I had lived. You know, and during that process, I would say it was a very painful journey. But I do think I met I made a lot of new friends. And I was able to learn a lot more, I believe that if I had not been in that situation, having said that, well, so I did begin at brite belly, just a month ago. And you know, I’m not going to say it’s a great return, I just, it for me, it was just a great opportunity to be in a space that I’d never been in before. But at the same time, it’s all kind of connected with my roots, you know, as a journalist, as a, you know, I had actually worked with Organica before, which is a parent company of brite belly, the company that I’m currently leading. So you know, it feels like maybe there’s no connection, but for me, there are many, many, there are connections to my past and my history as well. And I’m really excited because we have a brand new business going as you know, plant based food the market itself, it’s it’s growing not only in Korea, but globally as well. It’s not just growing, it’s actually booming. And there are some reports say that plant based food will probably well at least alternative meat will be accounting for at least a third of the global meat market by within the next 10 years. So again, it’s a very exciting time to be here.
Alex Jenson 3:46
You’re hearing Korea, the vegan space has grown exponentially in recent years, there was a time when even just being a vegetarian, rather than full vegan would be very difficult in Korea. You’ve got all sorts of different seafood products and other meat products hiding in soups, broths and lots of different types of cuisine. But definitely it seems to become easier going out to eat and also cooking for yourself. Can you tell us how that’s evolved in your mind?
Jem Kim 4:18
Right? Well, you know, to be clear, I’m not a vegan myself. I’m not a vegetarian. But I did have a father who was a vegetarian, not by his I don’t know. I mean, you know what happened to him was he saw his cow being slaughtered at a very young age. And from then on, he was never able to eat any meat. And I remember thinking gosh it must be tough for him because there are no options for you know, especially in that generation. And you look at the situation now and I think it has gotten much better, as you said, but there’s still a bit of a I guess social lack of I won’t say lack of but there may be still social awareness for vegan you know, vegetarians may still there’s there’s room to grow. I think that’s what we mean and And you know, bright belly, we kind of that’s that’s where we go in, that’s where we enter, because for us, it’s not really just about catering to the vegan population, what we want to do is, and this is, this is our mission, you know, we want to make it make eating less meat, not that painful, we want to make it an easy experience, and you make it taste great at the same time. So that’s the reason why we don’t only do alternative meat, we also do HMR, which means you’ve already made meals, frozen meals that can be just popped into the microwave just takes four minutes, four and a half minutes, four minutes, and you get a meal right there. And, you know, that’s what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do is make it easier for people to have, you know, give them more choices, more plant based choices.
Alex Jenson 5:45
Well, there are a lot of health experts who’ve said in recent years that having a diet that’s 90%, plant based at least is helpful. And I don’t know, I don’t have the expertise to confirm or deny that. But clearly, for people who do subscribe to that way of thinking it’s helpful to have delicious plant based meals, how do you make them delicious, though? The, the approach seems to be either just make the most of vegetables or create something that mimics meat, are you doing both of those things?
Jem Kim 6:19
Definitely um, you know, that’s a great question. Because when you think about it, especially for the flexitarian, people who are trying to eat less meat, because just because they’re more conscious of their health, just because they’re more conscious about the health of this planet, as you know, meat, when you’re trying to eat meat, it does mean that many more carbon footprints. So if let’s say you’re somebody who’s just trying to cut down for the sake of that as well, still, you’re not going to want to eat something that doesn’t taste good, right? You want to taste something, you want to eat something that still tastes as good, as good as real meat. And that’s what we’re trying to do. You know, we do, we have a lot of process for doing that. And our r&d team is great. We’re always sampling other food sampling, a lot of me trying to make sure that we’re at that level, I can’t go into all the details about what makes a delicious meal. But I can definitely say that, you know, what we’re aiming for is not just is not just a vegan dish, or a vegetarian dish, what we want to make is something that tastes as good as a real meat dish, and people after you eat it, and you find out oh, my God, this was not me. You know, that’s the kind of experience that we’re looking for.
Alex Jenson 7:29
From a business perspective, though, where are you at now? So you took on this job as a CEO, I know that you recently traveled to the US, there must be a lot of efforts to work on the marketing side, getting into stores, finding other ways to grow your business at this very early stage, can you give us a summary of exactly where you are at?
Jem Kim 7:49
Right, again, you know, the markets right now, there are a couple of big trends, and I’m sure you’re well aware of it as well, Alex, you know, the first part is, one of the first things is, again, the plant based trend. And another thing is Asian food, a lot of Asian cuisine that’s coming to the, you know, a lot of people, it’s gaining a lot of popularity. And again, flexitarians, especially among the younger generation, the millennials and Generation Z, they’re the people, I guess, that we’re targeting for, because we know that we’re all on the same journey here not to say that people outside of that, that, you know, I don’t want to categorize anyone, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who also want to join this, and it’s open to all, but it’s just that we feel that, you know, we want to go together with those trends not. And having said that, our business. So these, those are all the markets that we want to address. And right now, you know, again, Korea is growing, there’s a lot more awareness for plant based food and, and a lot of people, you know, when they when I tell them about our menus that recently that are currently going into a lot of the major retailers. You know, they tell us oh my god, I didn’t know that. That was you. We didn’t know that that was plant based. We didn’t know that was vegetarian. And I think that’s why we see the business going upward. Over the next couple of years, there’s going to be a lot more growth in this area in this space. And it’s just great to be a part of it.
Alex Jenson 9:16
But what is the basic business model of brite belly? How does it meet the market? Is it directly dealing with consumers? Or is your primary goal to get into big super stores or maybe some of the more premium department store bases?
Jem Kim 9:30
It’s all those things because again, when we say we want to make plant based eating an easy experience, and make sure that people have more, you know, healthier food choices, that means we have to be everywhere, you know, b2b, b2c, all of all other accounts. When we don’t say we’re only going to be in b2b. We don’t say we only be doing you know, just directly to consumers. We do everything because, again, that’s the only way that we can actually provide more choices to everyone.
Alex Jenson 10:00
So you personally, though, how’s life been there? Has it been extremely hectic in the last few weeks?
Jem Kim 10:06
Oh, yeah, I think over the past month, I’m not sure how many hours I’ve had, you know, for sleep. So I guess that kind of tells it all. You know, the trip to California, there was a natural product Expo there. It’s one of the biggest expos for natural food in the US. And that was really exciting. Because, number one, when I went there, I saw that, you know, there were so many different plant based food products out there. And a lot of them had, you know, they were very competitive. You know, I could just see where the market was going. So it was really exciting. But again, you know, I, I can’t say that I’m, I don’t know, I mean, I really feel like I want some sleep, that’s for sure. But I have a great team. And I’m hoping that this year, we can, you know, achieve, achieve things that will help make again, give more choices for a lot more people.
Alex Jenson 11:02
And can we just take a quick step back? I’m curious how you exactly connected with brite belly and a bit more about the company’s story before this career entry?
Jem Kim 11:11
Sure. So Ryan Hong, who is actually the founder of Organica. He was, he also owned and ran Herald Corporation when I was a journalist there. So I’ve actually worked with Ryan for about 20 years now. Well, at least known him about me, I would say 10 years more closely with him. So, you know, I guess it was a natural step. I was, I was looking for a new opportunity, and possibly the investment or startup, you know, space. And, you know, there was bright belly was there, it had been brite belly was spun off only, and I believed July last year. So it had been, it’s, it hasn’t been a long time, less than, you know, six months. So given all that, it just came kind of naturally, I guess, again, we’ve worked together before, and I knew what organico was about. Organica is one of the first companies in Korea, to introduce, you know, vegan food. And I just, you know, that vision just clicked with me.
Alex Jenson 12:11
We do seem to have a lot more enthusiasm about working for younger companies and startups today than there was in the past, when a lot of people in Korea just queued up to work for one of the big conglomerates. What is it for you the appeal compared with the large corporation experience you had in the past?
Jem Kim 12:30
Well, again, it’s the biggest thing is, I believe, the decision making process, you know, in a lot of cases, I guess, in big companies, it takes much longer. And you have to be really careful about you know, how to manage the stakeholders not to say that at a startup, managing stakeholders is not a big job, but I think it’s it’s a little bit different. But for me, I guess it’s I’m approaching in a whole new way. Because I really want to create a workspace, you know, a place where people really want to come in and work. And I think it’s, you know, again, it’s the leadership, the leadership has to decide what direction you’re going to go. I’ve always been a believer of and I believe I said at the last time as well, you can’t get get sustainable, you know, performance is you can’t get that kind of performance if you’re only pushing for short term. And I really believe that the workplace has to be a place where not only, you know, people should be able to talk about what they want in terms of work in a professional, you know, space, they should not be, they should not have to pull back or push. You know, that’s, that’s what I believe. But at the same time, I really believe that you have to make sure that people feel comfortable, where they’re working, and they’re able to speak out loud, but they think, I think that’s the only way we can move forward. And that’s the reason why one of the two principles that we have is, one of them is be kind. And the second one is, you really need to Eat That Frog. First,
Alex Jenson 13:58
I’d like to ask you as well about the difference with your other careers. And I know you said there’s this common thread, but being a journalist for the Korea Herald is quite a leap from there to what you’re doing now. And you’re not the first guest we’ve had on this podcast has made that kind of leap. So it’s infinitely possible. What’s your view in the modern world of this, this idea that I introduced at the very start reinventing your career multiple times or at least changing jobs? Do you feel that that it’s something that all of us have to embrace, necessarily, because the way the workspace is today? Or is it more about just being lots of opportunities to do so?
Jem Kim 14:36
Um, I really don’t believe it’s, you know, you do not have to make that choice if you feel like it’s not for you, for me. Even when I was a journalist. I was around journalists for about 12 years, but the rest of my 20 year career about eight years, I ran an in house venture, I was a part of the business development team. I did many things that was outside of the journalists realm, and that’s only me you know, that I I wanted to do it, I wanted it that way. So I think in the end, it’s really about what your personal goals are. You know, I’ve actually never seen or heard or heard, directly heard of, heard Steve Jobs, Stanford speech until I was I joined the banquet. That was the first time that I actually listened to it from the beginning to the end. And, you know, for me, what really stood out was when not when he said, you know, stay hungry and stay foolish, but when he said, Don’t settle. And I realized that for a large part of my life, I had been looking for that, but I never had the courage to step out of my comfort zone. So for me, it was really the first time that I stepped out of it when I just quit Coupang. And I it’s very, it was very painful for me, to be honest, really painful, really frightening. I don’t know where I’m going, where I’m headed, despite the fact that I thought I was ready for it. So I really don’t think it’s, it’s a choice that you have to make. But I do believe every time you step out of your comfort zone, you do learn something. And you know, in the end, maybe that’s what counts.
Alex Jenson 16:06
Thank you very much for sharing your own words of wisdom as well, by the way, where and when can we look forward to enjoying brite belly foods, if some of us have heard this today and not just been interested in the business side, but also thought, Well, yeah, I’d like to get in on this plant based food action. Of course, there are already options in Korea. And that’s evidence of this space being a thing now. But can you tell us where and when we’ll be able to enjoy your products?
Jem Kim 16:31
We’re currently in Starbucks. So the veggie menus, the vegetarian menus, you see all the patties are made by brite belly. So that’s one area that you can go to, even though our label is not there. That’s why we’re making another area. Another place that we’re going into is, we’re currently in a lot of school cafeterias. But that I won’t go into too much detail. On Instagram, of course, you can follow us and you can see you know, where we’re in all the stores that we’re in. In addition to Starbucks, we were in, I believe, the coffee bean and tea leaf. But some of the products, they may not be left right now. But that was one another store that we were in. Seven Eleven, they do a lot of vegetarian Gimbabs. That’s something that we’re doing, we’re producing, in collaboration with our parent company, Organica. And online we’re also in Coupang and Market Kurly. So those are the two places that you can look for us as well. And again, you can also come to directly to Organica mall or to our website, britebellyfood, com, where you can just simply click onto products, and you’ll see where you can, it’ll just lead you to where you can pay for, you know, for the product, and there’ll be delivered to your home so that you can enjoy again, a really easy and simple meal in a matter of minutes.
Alex Jenson 17:45
Well, yeah, I’ve just looked at your Instagram, which is easy to find through the main website, britebellyfood.com, brite spells b r i t e just to save you the trouble if anyone’s looking to check that out. And I can see the second posters there currently is related to Earth Hour. And I guess, with all the environmental movements going on at the moment as well around plant based food. That’s something you mentioned briefly earlier, we wish you all the best. Bringing together all your personal experience being aware with huge trends in the world of ESG. For instance, Gem and and the food delivery space that Coupang has been involved in and your journalism background. And then of course, this new adventure. We’ll look forward to catching up with you. Just all the best of luck, Jim Kim.
Jem Kim 18:31
Thanks so much, Alex.
Alex Jenson 18:33
And that’s it for today’s show. Thanks again to our sponsor, the Four Seasons hotel Seoul for making today’s episode possible. If you want to get in touch with us, maybe you’ve got a business idea like Gem that you want the world to know about. Maybe you got a story that you think will inspire others or you’ve got a suggestion for us otherwise, just search KBLA via LinkedIn and see you again tomorrow.