The Changing Role of the Korean Food Store in New York City

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New York City boasts one of the world's largest urban areas and metropolitan populations. These conditions present enormous challenges to the distribution of food products for New York City residents. The distribution system that has emerged in response to these challenges is unique: specialty store food sales, in particular, are more important in New York than in any other state. Yet very few studies have attempted to examine or document the system's uniqueness. This paper reports on a study conducted of one especially distinctive aspect of New York's food distribution landscape, the Korean Grocery Store. Ninety Korean food store owners were personally interviewed, by trained interviewers fluent in Korean, regarding their perceptions, standard retail operating practices and performance measures. The Korean store owners/operators reported a number of practices and performance indicators that are substantially different from the similar measures in other food retailing channels. They rely, for example, on traditional, often Korean controlled, distribution networks to source their products from wholesale markets in lieu of the standardized transportation systems typical of most convenience stores and supermarkets. Further, the sales mix, business motivations, merchandising practices and labor cost structures of most Korean stores depart significantly from that of other grocery stores. At the same time, one of the significant findings of this study is that Korean retail operations have evolved considerably since prior research was conducted nearly ten years ago. No longer simply green grocers, they now can be more properly described as small, convenience-oriented grocery stores. Their stores have been adapted to more closely meet the needs of the lives of their urban customers: store hours have been increased, new grocery lines have been added and fresh food offerings have been expanded from simply fresh fruits and vegetables to a wide array of bakery items, meats and fully prepared foods.

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A.E. Res. 92-07
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Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
Applied Economics
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