Four years ago, when chef Olivia Lee was pregnant, she began craving her favourite fruits from Korea, such as fresh juicy strawberries and peaches. To her disappointment, the Singapore-based South Korean F&B consultant and author discovered that the selection of Korean fruits available at local supermarkets were nothing like what she was familiar with back home.
Knowing she had the experience and contacts to pull it off, Lee decided to launch Brandfit to import and market rare, premium quality produce like shine muscat grapes, artisanal kimchi and marinated seafood. Today, seasonal and fresh produce from South Korea can be found on online marketplace SoGoodK; Brandfit also supplies products to top establishments including Tarte by Cheryl Koh, Culina at Como Dempsey and Zen.
What aspect of K-culture do you hope to bring to Singapore?
The Korean fruits I grew up eating are always delicious and have the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity that I knew would appeal to both chefs and consumers here. Hence, this is an opportunity for me to showcase the premium quality and diversity of Korea’s agriculture. I want to change the way people view Korean produce, by bringing in those of the best and highest quality.
What unique produce have you introduced to our shores?
One of our most popular items are Premium Korean Jukhyang Strawberries, which are very difficult to cultivate but are firm and very fragrant. Korean strawberries found in local supermarkets are usually unripe, so these fresh, delicious strawberries gained immense popularity due to their taste.
Another popular product is our Maesil Cheong Kit (fermented plum syrup). Many locals are unfamiliar with how green plums could be used and purchased our kits out of curiosity.
What are the challenges of running a food import business?
It is definitely risky when importing fresh produce as unpredictable weather conditions could affect the quality of our items. To manage, I source the best produce from multiple regions so that in the event of unforeseen circumstances, I can still provide high-quality produce from other parts of Korea.
As someone who is not part of their world and who is unfamiliar with their ways, it isn’t always easy to connect with artisans and producers. However, I deeply respect them and work hard to earn their trust by showing them how passionate I am about understanding what makes their produce unique and special.
With travel restrictions preventing you from visiting Korea, how did you continue to ensure the quality of your imports?
I was fortunate as prior to the pandemic, I had already sourced for the best farmers in Korea and kept in touch with them. So even though I wasn’t able to conduct quality checks and taste tests,
I made sure to preserve good communication through lots of Zoom meetings. The farmers would send me photos and videos of the produce before dispatching them, and I would personally do quality checks on all the produce here before sending them out.