In just four decades, Sahmyook Foods, a health food company managed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Korea, has grown and thrived thanks to a strong commitment to the church's health message and sound business practices.
Following its motto, “The realization of love for humanity through health all over the world,” the mission and purpose of the organization is to contribute to the health of humanity as a profit-making organization of the Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church Educational Foundation, its executives said. The company also takes social responsibilities, such as spreading the health gospel, fundraising for educational work, creating jobs for Adventists, and making local community service and food contributions. As of 2021, Sahmyook Foods had 410 employees in five plants across South Korea.
The founders of Sahmyook Foods understood from its very beginning the importance not only of reading the market trends but of being trendsetters, chief marketing officer Ki-Wan Kim said in his presentation at the 2023 Adventist Health Food Conference (AHFA) in Auckland, New Zealand. Kim represented the company in a gathering of Adventist-managed food factory executives February 12-17.
Sahmyook’s Soymilk Business
The company showed its commitment to innovation very early on. In May 1985, Sahmyook Foods produced and sold the first pouch of soymilk on the market. After starting the production and sale of soymilk in pouches, the company automated the pouch filler in 1986, extended factories and warehouses from 1987 to 1989, and installed Tetra-Pak machines to produce Tetra-Pak soy milk packaging in 1988.
With the completion of the Unju plant in 1993 and the Bonghwa plant in 1995, leaders laid the foundation for a food company that would manufacture ramen, dietary fiber, juice, and sports drinks, among other products. Keeping up with market trends, Sahmyook introduced infant soymilk (1998), strawberry-flavored and banana-flavored soymilk (1999), and chocolate-flavored soymilk (2000). “During this period, Sahmyook Foods installed automated pouch production lines to meet consumers’ demands and launched various products such as high-calcium soymilk, black sesame soymilk, and black bean calcium soymilk,” Sahmyook Foods CEO Kwang Jin Chon wrote in a research sketch he prepared for the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists.
Chon explained that Sahmyook Foods’ main products were developed by the company's food laboratory. “Our food laboratory developed a variety of products in pursuit of the best products for the health and happiness of modern people, using vegetable ingredients according to the health message of the Adventist Church,” Chon wrote. “In particular, it is developing products using high-tech equipment such as gas chromatography, … real-time polymerase chain reaction, and [others].”
He explained that this careful research in a food laboratory resulted in innovative products of at least a dozen types of soymilk, including mixed grains, black sesame, and black sugar soymilk. As a result of these efforts, Sahmyook Soymilk has become the second-largest product in South Korea’s soymilk market, Chon said.
The company’s soymilk production has earned important industry awards several times, including first place in its category in the 2022 Korea Standard Wellbeing & Environmental Index. Since 2007, it has won the annual Best Brand Award as selected by consumers, and since 2016, the Best Brand Award as selected by Chinese consumers.
Expansion in South Korea and Beyond
In recent years, Sahmyook Foods has expanded its business to the overseas market in 25 countries, especially focusing on the Vietnamese, American, Chinese, and Japanese markets. Its soymilk options are becoming increasingly popular outside South Korea. It is already number one in soymilk sales in Vietnam for a foreign brand.
The company’s expansion abroad, however, has not stopped it from constantly innovating at home. Sahmyook Foods launched an oil production business, producing sesame and perilla seed oil, in 2016. It also took over Sahmyook Fisheries in 2018 to start a laver (edible seaweed) production business.
“Sahmyook Foods has continuously grown as a general food corporation, expanding its business from soy milk in 1985, through organic protein food in 2009, organic distribution in 2010, oil production in 2016, to laver production in 2018, and it will continue to grow toward a better future,” Chon wrote.
Sahmyook and Mission
Company executives estimate that Sahmyook Foods has invested at least 100 billion Korean won (more than US$77 million) in social community projects since its beginnings. Those funds have benefited 10 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and seven high schools, along with two universities and three graduate schools, across the country.
Those funds have also supported medical missionary and evangelistic initiatives, Chon explained. “Along with Sahmyook University, Sahmyook Seoul Adventist Hospital, and Sahmyook Foreign Language Institutes, Sahmyook Foods plays an important role in expanding the influence of the Adventist Church in Korean society,” he wrote.
A Culture of Honesty
In 2022, Sahmyook Foods celebrated its 40th anniversary with a new record in sales. The company is also pushing a new slogan based on the value of honesty. “At Sahmyook Foods, honest people make a healthy world with honest products,” a promotional video states.
“Honest principles,” company leaders emphasize, “also leads to a healthy production environment.” They explained that from receiving raw materials to product manufacturing, the whole process must be safe in order to be healthy. Company executives are glad to report that this is the case across Sahmyook Foods’ five plants across South Korea.
As part of the company’s push for honesty, executives said Sahmyook Foods has developed an honest corporate culture. Leaders said they are thankful to God and employees for their commitment to the principles and values of the company.
A meeting at the end of the year with hundreds of the company employees to cap the company’s anniversary year included positive reports and testimonies. “[We heard] what wonderful results God gives to those who believe and rely on the living God despite hardships and difficulties,” Chon said during the ceremony. “It is something that has strengthened our faith.”