As fans have become more active in expressing their affection for popular stars, the market for special boxed lunches is enjoying a boom. Sending costly lunches to their idols is becoming a hot trend, and industry insiders say the market is now worth W20 billion (US$1=W1,091), up 50 percent from a year ago.
Idol groups' fan clubs, which mostly comprise middle and high school students, make up the bulk of demand, and prices range from W150,000 to W200,000 per set. Eel, tteokgalbi (Korean beef grilled as patties), salmon and shrimp usually constitute the main dishes, along with fresh fruit, a fancy cake and a flask of tea.
"Prices often go up because several fan clubs for the same idol group compete to send nicer boxed lunches," said the manger of a company that makes the boxed meals. "They don't just send them to group members, but also send cheaper sets costing between W20,000 and W50,000 to backup dancers and staff."
As money appears to be no object for some star-crazed fans, sets costing in excess of W1 million have also appeared on the market.
According to lunch-box maker Suji Kim Art, actor Joo Sang-wook of the TV drama "Special Affairs Team TEN" has received at least one worth W2 million, while Kang Ho-dong, Park Gun-hyung, Son Ho-young, U-know Yunho and Jang Keun-suk have all been sent packed meals worth around W1 million each. The company said it has also had orders for W500,000 boxed meals for Kang So-ra, Cha Seung-won and Im Tae-kyung.
The basic ingredients for these are, predictably, higher grade, including lobster, eel, pine mushrooms, abalone, various raw fish and yellow corbina. Whiskey or wine costing hundreds of thousands of won a bottle are also usually tucked inside. The food is often organic, and each case features a caricature of the star or starlet hand-drawn on it.
"Individual fans who order these super-expensive boxed lunches are usually professionals, such as professors, designers, lawyers or stock brokers," said CEO Kim Su-ji. "Most of them are women in their 30s and 40s, and even in their 50s and 60s."