Trade and ship building giant STX might not be a company that you immediately associate with grocery. But you would be wrong: as part of its diversification strategy, the logistics giant has thrown its weight behind a new beverage brand, Méshil.
Méshil takes its name from a Korean plum, known as maesil, which is fermented into a beverage traditionally used in Korea as a “folk remedy”, Donghyun Won, the person behind the brand, explained.
The popularity of méshil in Korea – as well as its various health benefits – inspired Donghyun to think: “I want to bring this unique super fruit to people all over the world”. And so, the new organic beverage brand – which officially launched in France last week – was born.
“The most important supporting factor that made this idea a reality was that the senior management of STX Corporation trusted the team and [provided] all the support for this project.
"STX is traditionally well-known in the world for its shipbuilding, ocean shipping, and commodity and heavy equipment trading. But all the teams are very much focused on raising new businesses, and the management was very pleased to support this idea, which is really a challenging and risky business to the company.”
A unique proposition
The Méshil production process is “very much like how wine is produced”, the founder explained. “Farmers harvest the fruit every summer, and there are many stages to age it. It takes time.”
More than three years, in fact. “We age the fruit of Méshil for more than three years and it’s done with a traditional know-how. This is very unique technology that is not found from other juices in the market. By this long period of ageing, sugar is converted into glucose, fructose and oligosaccharides, and it finally bears its healthy elements and unique flavour.”
The idea to launch Méshil internationally was initially developed in 2013 and work began in earnest two years ago, when the Méshil team started to establish its supply chain and test flavour profiles that would appeal to Western palates.
The complex production process meant it was vital to find the right producer to work with, Donghyun recalled. “The biggest challenge we faced immediately was to find [the right] farmer to partner. There are so many méshil farmers in Korea and from farm-to-farm they have different techniques to age the fruit.
"We had to meet almost every farmer in the country and tried all of their juice. Finally, we found a farmer in a region called Hadong, a southern part of South Korea, who has maintained a very traditional craft and production capability. With this great partner, we were able to create Méshil for the Western consumers.”
“The next challenge was the flavour,” Donghyun noted. The group formulated its product so that it would be “oriental but also modern in style”.
“Koreans have a stereotype for méshil juice, which is very sweet and sour. We didn’t believe that it could satisfy the European customers. Therefore, we made a vast survey to the French people in Seoul to find the right taste. Through this effort, we have finally found the most favourable taste for Western consumers.”
In Korea, consumers use méshil as a tonic in their “daily life”. It is associated with various health benefits and its use as a cure was recorded as far back as medieval medical book Dongui Bogam.
Donghyun believes this healthy association will appeal to consumers in the West, providing the beverage with an important point of difference. “It promotes digestion, has antioxidants and detox effects, boosts immune defences, and refreshes your body. In Korea, it is very much well-known for these benefits, which are completely unknown in the West.”
And while the production process is similar to wine-making, the beverage is non-alcoholic. “Méshil doesn’t contain alcohol, even though it has similar ageing stages to wine. Everyone can enjoy its benefits, anytime and anywhere.”
First stop, France
Méshil has ambitions to grow throughout Europe and the US. The decision to launch in France was a strategic one, Donghyun said.
“We strongly believe that French customers are really able to understand the value of this time-consuming production process,” Donghyun explained.
As an organic beverage, Méshil also stands to benefit from the “rapid growth” of the organic market in France. Organic retail sales in Europe total about €27 billion annually, of which €8bn are in France. According to Donghyun, organic food sales in the country have increased by 278% over the last decade.
“There are some hits in the organic industry in France and we believe that Méshil could be the next hit to the market.
“Méshil is the first organic juice from Korea that is launched in Europe. There has been no Korean organic juice brand introduced to the French consumers, and we think that this brand new organic brand from Asia could be a fresh [experience] for them… We believe that Méshil could be the next wonder for [organic retail] channels who are looking for the next hit.”
Next stop, the world!
Once the brand is established in French organic channels, the group will look to extend distribution to other European markets and the US, Donghyun revealed.
“We now focus only on the French market. The reason why we don’t choose Germany or the United States but France [for our international debut] is that the success in France could lead us to the other grand markets. We believe that the French market is leading the other markets.
“Once we succeed in France, we will approach the whole European market and the Americas. We do hope to introduce this Korean tradition, which says we cure body not with medicine but with food, to as many people in the world as we can.”