By Chung Joo-won
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean giant food manufacturers boasted two-digit profit growth in the first three months of this year on brisk demand for instant home meal products amid coronavirus-led social distancing, data showed Monday.
In the January-March period, earnings of food conglomerate CJ Cheiljedang Corp. were 28 percent higher than brokerages' consensus.
The company's operating profit jumped 54.1 percent on-year to 275.9 billion won (US$223.9 million), according to its regulatory filing. Sales increased 16.2 percent to 5.83 trillion won.
During the same period, Nongshim Co. the country's leading instant noodle maker, saw its sales grow 16.8 percent to 687.7 billion won. Its operating profit soared 101.1 percent to 63.6 billion won.
Samyang Foods Co., another major ramyeon maker, raked in 26.6 billion won in operating profit, up 73 percent from a year ago. Snack manufacturing behemoth Orion Corp. also reported quarterly operating profit of 97 billion won, up 25.5 percent from a year earlier.
"COVID-19 has increased demand for home-cooked meals," said Cho Mi-jin, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. "It will generate both a short-term performance hike and the longer-term expansion of home meal replacement (HMR) products."
Rising e-commerce channels also boosted the consumption of such fast-and-easy box meals, Cho added.
The trend stands in contrast to other industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the start of the year to Friday, stock prices for the food and beverage sector jumped 15.64 percent, only second to the medical sector's 25.55 percent.
The food and beverage sector's growth marks a steep contrast from a 5.86 percent fall during the same period in 2019.
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