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My Internship Experience During the Pandemic
Written by Seojun Lee | Published. 2020.10.21 16:24 | Count : 332
[Omija tea product that the company I am part of is currently selling.
Photo by Hyojongwon corp.]

If all had gone according to plan, I would have started an internship with Hyojongwon America Ltd, which is a U.S. branch of an agricultural company named Hyojongwon in South Korea, just as it was about to launch its signature drink in the United States. But as with so many stories from 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic guaranteed that things would not go according to plan. Though the company invested heavily in preparation, there was no product launch, and there was no marketing campaign. My internship was, fortunately, not canceled, and I did learn valuable things about the food industry in the United States of America. 

Hyojongwon's primary business is growing and marketing products based on Omija, also known as the five-flavored berry or Magnolia Vine. Its primary market is in South Korea, though it also exports to Asia. However, Hyojongwon’s market research showed that drinks based on Omija would find customers in North America, and 2020 was meant to be the year in which these products would be introduced. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made this impossible. 

The introduction of new food products in the United States begins with various conventions and meetings at which suppliers/sellers connect with potential importers, distributors, investors, and even politicians with industry ties. The company’s original plan was to launch its products at the convention named Food Expo West, which was supposed to be held in February 2020 in California. Some investors were already showing some interest and making plans to visit the company booth at the expo. But with all U.S. food expos being canceled in 2020, the official product launch was put on hold. The company lost a tremendous amount of money and investors, which also affected my internship activity. As the product launch was canceled, the company’s preparation for its social media launch was also postponed. I could not participate in any internship activities until the company decided to launch its product online.

Fortunately for my internship, the company redirected its resources into market research and online engagement, and it was my role to research the beverage market trends in the United States. I focused on consumers who prefer healthy beverages such as tea. I found that since the beginning of the pandemic, demand for healthy foods, including tea, vegetables, and fruits, has increased tremendously. People are also experimenting more with their own cooking and seem willing to try novel recipes and ingredients. One example of novelty-seeking and new consumer resourcefulness is the explosion of Dalgona coffee, which is made at home and based on popular recipes that circulate online. Such trends are good news for a company like Hyojongwon, which plans to introduce a novel natural berry into this market. 

The department where I worked decided to build a social media strategy based on this trend. To catch active consumers who are willing to arrange their food creations, I decided to make video clips introducing how Omija can be used in various recipes. However, to make our video, our team first needed approval from headquarters and then samples of the product to film. Since the company was working on listing the U.S. version of the product on Amazon, we expected to buy our samples there. However, the listing process, which generally happens very quickly, dragged out for four months, as the pandemic disrupted Amazon’s supply chain. As we waited, the videos could not be finished.

[Internship meeting on Zoom platform, photo by Seojun Lee]

The company also used the time to build a communications infrastructure between the two continents to make the product launch go more smoothly when it finally happens. “The company has already been running on an online platform since we are an international company,” said Sejin Kim, a team leader in marketing in Hyojongwon America Ltd., “As the pandemic also influenced Korean headquarters, online meetings became a regular routine.” Kim also added, “We see an enormous opportunity to expand our market since the increase of demand for healthy foods.” 

The year 2020 caught everyone by surprise, and my internship at Hyojongwon took an unexpected direction thanks to COVID-19. However, it still turned out to be a valuable learning experience, and I am proud about my work. I got to watch a company deal with a serious disruption by refocusing on new opportunities. Such events helped me learn the value of improvisation and flexibility when the circumstances ruin well-laid plans.


Seojun Lee
Walt Whitman High School

Seojun Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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