State-run food stores in some parts of North Korea are selling processed foods in addition to rice and corn, Daily NK has learned. The lack of processed food, however, has made it difficult for state officials to uniformly distribute these food products to the stores. 

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source in Yanggang Province said that while the state-run food stores all sell rice and corn, “some shops also sell sugar, seasonings, flour and cooking oil.” He added, however, that “it seems they offer them momentarily only when goods are in stock because supplies are so low.”

Daily NK cross checked this information with other sources, all of whom confirmed that food stores throughout the country do not officially sell processed foods such as sugar and seasonings. Instead, some shops apparently sell these products temporarily to cover their sales targets. 

In fact, just last month, the shops were reportedly subject to a review of their monthly sales. The heads of local people’s committees, which manage the stores, led the inspections.

The Yanggang Province-based source explained that the Workers’ Party apparatus receives reports of the monthly sales achieved by the food stores. As a result, shop managers, at their own discretion, have been selling groceries other than grain to meet state-mandated sales targets.

Daily NK also understands that North Korean authorities have expanded the network of state-run food stores, opening shops in each dong, or the neighborhoods of downtown areas. In Hyesan, Yanggang Province, shops have opened in Songu-dong and Hyegang-dong, while in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, shops have opened in Nammun-dong, Yuson 1-dong and Yuson 2-dong.

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
In this undated photo, a North Korean market official (wearing a red ribbon with yellow lettering on her sleeve) is on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities have “positively assessed” the creation of the new food stores, according to the source. 

In fact, members of the ruling party’s Central Committee reportedly believe that if the shops are established in a stable manner, government officials can restore state control over commercial and economic activity. In short, North Korean authorities hope that the state will be able to easily adjust food supplies and prices through the new food stores.

Mid-level cadres tasked with managing the food store program, however, reportedly believe that the government still faces difficulties in supplying large amounts of grain.

Moreover, many North Korean farmers are apparently highly dissatisfied with the food stores.

“It’s getting hard to feed yourself, even if you farm your entire life until your back is bent,” a farmer in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. “Discontent is emerging everywhere with the state forcing penniless farmers to sell their food [to the government] at low prices.”

The farmer went on to note that “farmers use the money they earn farming one year to buy fertilizer and other supplies to farm the following year,” and asked rhetorically, “If [the farmers] make such little money, won’t it impact the next year’s harvest?”

Additionally, the food stores are reportedly having little tangible impact on ordinary people since so few consumers actually go to the shops. 

“The food stores have very little rice or corn to sell,” said the Yanggang Province-based source. “And the food they did acquire was just enough to sell grain a bit cheaply to soldiers [discharged with] honors, former military officers, and military families. Ordinary people have not been impacted at all by the [emergence] of  the food stores.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.