North Korean-made products grow more popular among North Korean consumers

North Korean snacks and candies
Various snacks and candies produced in North Korea. Image: Daily NK

As North Korea continues to ramp up domestic manufacturing of a variety of consumer goods, the country’s light manufacturing industry has launched new varieties of domestically-manufactured foods, kitchen items, shoes, and other products that are proving popular among North Korean consumers.

The results of the country’s light manufacturing industry’s move to domestically producing more goods began to be felt the 2010s. North Korean state media outlets and visitors to Pyongyang note that domestically-produced items now make up the majority of products for sale at Pyongyang’s No. 1 Department Store, and consumers are flocking to stores that sell North Korean-made products.

There has also been an increase in domestically-produced products in North Korea’s markets, and they are reportedly often better in quality than their Chinese counterparts.

“Sweets, cookies, and carbonated drinks made in Pyongyang are popular among consumers here,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source. “They are also using a lot of locally-produced products for the kitchen like dishwashing soap.”

Until the early 2000s, most ordinary North Koreans were only able to eat domestically-produced cookies during national holidays. Production of the cookies became a mainstay of the Kumkop General Foodstuff Factory and the Songdowon General Food Factory, and as the quality of their products improved, North Koreans began to buy them at the markets.

“The Songdowon Food Factory uses milk produced in small dairy farms to make chewy Sojeot (Cow Milk) Candy,” the source said.

“There are also a lot of different flavors of carbonated drinks appearing. The Ryongbong Food Factory and Koryo Airlines Food Factory, along with other factories, are producing these drinks,” said the source. Factories like the Potong River Koryo Airlines Food Factory, Ryongsong Food Factory and Taedong River Food Factory produce canned foods that are reportedly popular among housewives.

During the 2013 Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee General Plenum, Kim Jong Un emphasized that the country must increase production of consumer goods and that the country’s resources need to be focused on the mainstays of economic development: agriculture and light industry. North Korea experts increasingly note that this “light industry-first” policy combined with measures to create more autonomy for businesses will allow North Korea’s food factories to gain an edge over their Chinese competitors.

“In the past, party officials or wealthy people thought well of foreign cigarette brands and frequently gave them to friends and family as gifts,” said a separate South Pyongan-based source.

“Locally-produced options at the time only numbered around 10 products or so, but now the increase in factories means that there are more than 40 types of domestic cigarette brands. People don’t even try to seek out foreign brands anymore.”

A separate source in North Pyongan Province reported that shoemaking has become more advanced due to the use of modern equipment acquired through joint ventures with Chinese companies, and that shoes are now so high in quality that they are put on display to entice prospective buyers. Factories produce both work boots and shoes made from fabric, as well as more stylish dress shoes for both men and women. This means that North Koreans no longer need to buy Chinese shoes.

The reported six million mobile phone users in North Korea primarily use locally-produced phones, and even large LEDs and notebooks sold in the country are locally made. At the “Exhibition of IT Successes” in November last year, North Korea showed off new technologies like computer-aided design, machine translation, facial recognition, and voice recognition programs. Some experts, however, argue that North Korea is still dependent on Chinese and other foreign-produced raw materials and parts.

The sources told Daily NK that the lifting of international sanctions targeting North Korea would spur development of the country’s light industry technology and further increase the quality of its locally-produced products.