Although a noodle starts with simple ingredients, there is infinite variety in the ways its ingredients can be combined and prepared. Every two weeks, Nongshim America ships the noodles it manufactures in its 5-year-old facility in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to its parent company in Korea for a professional taste test.
Nongshim’s goal is product consistency in 187 countries worldwide. “You can enjoy a bowl of our noodles in Moscow and they taste exactly the same as in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.,” maintains Krith Roth, senior business development manager for national accounts. “Our product is standardized. We don’t compromise on the ingredients to save cost.”
The ingredients of a snack are easy to discover, but Nongshim’s recipes for its cheese snacks call for real cheese instead of cheese flavoring. Real shrimp instead of shrimp flavoring is used in the company’s shrimp crackers. “If we make kimchee-flavored ramyun, we use real kimchee,” says Young Lee, vice president of sales.
“We start with the real ingredients and take our time to produce the soup base,” Roth emphasizes. “We craft everything from scratch. We make the soup and wait through many hours and days to bring it to crystallized form. That has been our company position for 50 years and distinguishes our company’s products from the more commodity product out there.”
Nongshim produces a variety of instant noodle soup products like ramyun in bowls and dry form, as well as onion rings, shrimp crackers, tako chips and snacks with potato, banana or cuttlefish flavor. It also produces instant rice bowls and volcanic mineral water.
High Quality, Mid-Range
Roth places his company’s noodle and snack products at a mid-range price point. “Our company’s mission is to provide value to consumers and not be in the cheap eats category,” he says. The company encourages healthy eating in its products with a line that is made with no monosodium glutamate. “Our mainstay product is focusing on taste,” Roth stresses.
The company markets to four segments: the largest is Caucasian, followed by Hispanic, and two categories of Asians – Koreans and all other Asians. “Our products originated as a premium Korean product, and through time, they have crossed over to the rest of Asians other than Korean,” Roth explains. “Eventually, the strong follower is Hispanics, and now it is crossing over to the general consumer. So, through time, we’re adapting our product line to accommodate the changing flavor profile. Everything Nongshim makes is on the zesty side.”
“Our secret is that once you try it, you stay with it – tasting is believing,” Roth insists. He says in Korea, the company’s ramyun has more than a 70 percent market share. “Every year, we have the top market share – just like Coke,” Roth maintains. “No one has copied that flavor.”
Nongshim’s products can be found in national supermarket chains such as Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu, Roth asserts. The company bought a modern manufacturing facility in Rancho Cucamonga five years ago. Nongshim is working on a new product that uses a different process in which the noodle is baked and quickly dried.
“It gives you a different flavor and also minimizes the oil content – it’s a healthier trend,” Roth says. “As we evolve, our products are becoming more mainstream and less Korean. We also like to constantly research what makes a noodle taste good and also is healthier, as well.”
A quality control system that has been implemented at the Rancho Cucamonga factory takes an X-ray picture of each package sealed on the production line. “It analyzes what is inside the package and compares it with a sophisticated database in case a foreign object goes in there that is not detectable by an ordinary device,” Roth explains. “That applies to every single unit we produce, which can be traceable and accounted for. If you put a $100 bill in a bowl, our X-ray vision would catch that.”
Nongshim was founded in Korea in 1965. Five years ago, only a few employees located in the United States arranged the importing of the company’s products. “In less than five years, we have grown from three or four people into a 350-person operation,” Roth marvels. “It’s like an explosion and growing every day as we speak.”