North Korean domestic products occupying 50% of the market

Snacks produced by a North Korean state-owned enterprise. Image: Daily NK

Multiple sources in North Korea are reporting that the availability of domestically-produced products has been increasing in the country’s markets. Until a few years ago, most of the products sold in the markets were of Chinese origin, but now an estimated half of all goods available are made in North Korea.

It appears that some of these products are produced by state-owned enterprises in line with Kim Jong Un’s domestic policy to generate more income for the regime. In addition, private companies have started to lower their prices to compete with the state enterprises, further boosting the phenomenon.

“For agricultural products like rice, there are more domestic brands in the markets than Chinese ones. Even the confectionery section, which used to be dominated by Chinese products, is now half filled with North Korean products, and there are more beverages from North Korea than from China,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.

“Chinese products used to dominate more than half of the North Korean market, but as we (North Korea) are now producing large amounts of products ourselves that are better suited to the local market, the domestic products are naturally preferred. The local producers are imitating the goods produced by state enterprises in the 1980s, and so a lot of the demand for these products is being driven by good memories of the past.”

A source in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province added, “Private vendors are making the types of cookies that used to be produced by the confectionery factories in Pyongsong and Pyongyang before the period of the Arduous March (the period of mass starvation in the mid-1990s) in their homes. As they can now make cookies that children prefer, the more expensive factory products become less compelling.”

She continued that a packet of candy produced by the Sonhung Food Factory costs 7000 KPW in Pyongyang, and 9000 KPW in Ryanggang, but noted that the candy made by private producers sells for 1000 KPW for a packet of 10 and are far more popular.

“The mint candies that are preferred by adults are sold at 5000 KPW per 150 g. They’re not very popular due to the high price. The candies produced by private merchants only cost only 6000 KPW per kilo, so they’re far cheaper than the state factory products,” she explained.

For this reason, a source in Pyongyang added, confectionery and carbonated beverages produced by the state-run factories are considered pricey and mainly bought by government officials or wealthier citizens.

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Many of her articles are featured in the Jangmadang section of the Daily NK website. She has been interviewed by the New York Times and LA Times, among others, and is a contributor on North Korea issues for TBS and KBS.