8 things to know about Shin Choo-Ho, founder of Shin Ramyun, and his legacy

Shin Ramyun is a popular Korean noodle dish with an intense spicy flavour. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Shin Ramyun is a popular Korean noodle dish with an intense spicy flavour. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Shin Ramyun, a Korean ramyeon (instant noodles) brand, should be familiar to anyone who enjoys Korean food. Shin Choo-Ho, the founder of Nongshim Group, which houses brands such as Shin Ramyun and Chapaghetti, dies aged 91 on 27 March from chronic illness.

It was announced that the eldest son of Chairman Shin, Shin Dong-won, will take over the company. This succession is done according to the plans made clear to the board a long time before Chairman Shin's passing.

Typically spelt as ramyeon, what does it take to be the Ramyeon King in South Korea and across the world? Yahoo Lifestyle SEA explores the eight things to know about Chairman Shin and his legacy, including the reason behind Nongshim's ramyeon development and family disputes.

1) A humble farmer's son

Chairman Shin was born in 1930 in Ulsan and was a farmer's son. He is the third son with nine other siblings in the family. His eldest brother, late Shin Gyeok-ho, is the chairman of the massive conglomerate, Lotte Group.

Being a farmer himself in his early years had helped Chairman Shin understand farmers' struggling needs like himself when he was establishing his company. Nongshim can be translated to "farmer's heart".

2) Founded his company in 1965

Before it was named Nongshim Group, the company is known as Lotte Food Industrial Company.

After graduating from university, Chairman Shin worked for the late Lotte chairman in Japan, where he was first introduced to instant noodles after seeing Nissin Foods' success in Japan in 1958.

Managing part of the company's operations under his brother, who had since established Lotte Group in Japan, the pair ultimately went on separate ways due to vast differences in vision and management methods.

3) Nongshim Ramyun development

Being a former farmer, Chairman Shin understands the difficulty of having rice on the table for all three meals every day. Along with the South Korean government's attempts to change the people's eating habits to cope with rice shortage, he had also identified that flour, a key component for ramyeon, could be obtained without issues.

While more than five ramyeon companies were vying for the market, under Chairman Shin's guidance, South Korea's first instant black bean sauce noodle product was developed in 1970, and in the same year, Lotte Beef Noodles were launched. Nongshim Ramyun officially started sales in 1975, and the popular Shin Ramyun was established in 1986.

Pedestrians walk past signage for Lotte Department store on September 1, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past signage for Lotte Department store on September 1, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

4) Family rifts and fallout

Lotte Group's Shin had rejected Chairman Shin's proposal to develop instant noodles in South Korea even as various brands were swiftly producing instant noodles. This had prompt Chairman Shin to leave his brother's company and start his own in 1965.

Seeing Lotte Ramyeon launched under the former Lotte Food Industrial Company, the late Lotte Group's Shin was reportedly furious and banned Chairman Shin from further usage of Lotte's name. The company was subsequently officially renamed Nongshim in 1978.

The two continued to have a bitter relationship after the fallout and reportedly did not participate in any family gatherings together for over half a century. If one was going to appear for the event, the other and his family will not. The duo did not reconcile despite Lotte Group's Shin passing away in 2020. Chairman Shin was not in attendance for his brother's funeral but had sent his son to offer condolences.

5) Plethora of ramyeon brands

Many of Nongshim Group's famous ramyeon products were developed during the 1980s and have stood the test of time.

Apart from Shin Ramyun and Kimchi Ramyun, Neoguri, Ansungtangmyun, Chapagetti, and Gamjatang noodles are some of the familiar brands we can get in Singapore's supermarkets and online shopping platforms.

6) More than just instant noodles

In 1971, Nongshim launched Saewookkang, a shrimp flavoured cracker, and is South Korea's first snack brand. It is similar to Calbee's Kappa Ebisen, which was launched in 1964 but made with rice instead of wheat. Saewookang is considered one of the oldest and most popular snacks in Korea, with annual sales topping 10 billion won in Korea in 2019.

There are currently five kkang products by Nongshim other than Saewookkang. They are namely Yangpakkang, Gamjakkang, Gogumakkang, and Oksusukkang, which are onion, potato, sweet potato, and corn crackers. In July 2020, before the launch of Oksusukkang, Nongshim recorded an all-time monthly high of 10 billion won in sales for the four kkang products.

Nongshim also launched a mineral water brand and gradually built up its home meal replacement items and health foods to the group's business portfolio.

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7) Health foods focus for new chairman

Taking over Nongshim Group is the eldest son of Chairman Shin, Shin Dong-won. The new Chairman Shin had reportedly identified home meal replacement kits and mineral water as the group's key growth engines.

The mineral water brand, Baeksansu, was developed in 2011 and launched in 2012. Currently ranking third in South Korea's market with a market share of 8%, the brand achieved 100 million won net profit in 2019, which soared to 6 billion won net profit in 2020.

Launching meal-kit brand Cooktam in 2017 and Veggie Garden, which combines meat alternatives and home meal replacement kits, Nongshim sets its sights to catch up with market-leading brands such as CJ CheilJedang.

8) Possible reconciling between Nongshim with Lotte Group

Before Chairman Shin passed away, he had reportedly expressed his hope of "sharing a close bond with family." This is being interpreted as his wish for his children to rebuild relations with the Lotte Group family.

At his funeral, late Lotte Group's Shin's eldest daughter, Shin Young-ja, was in attendance. Shin Dong-bin, the current CEO of Lotte Group, could not attend as he lives in Japan. He had sent a wreath as an offering of condolence.

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