Food stores

Some of North Korea’s state-run food stores sell processed foods in addition to rice and corn

State-run food stores in parts of North Korea sell processed foods in addition to rice and corn, Daily NK has learned. However, the lack of processed foods has made it difficult for state officials to evenly distribute these food items in stores.

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source from Yanggang Province said that while state-run food stores all sell rice and corn, “some stores also sell sugar, seasonings , flour and cooking oil”. He added, however, that “it looks like they only momentarily offer them when the goods are in stock because stocks are so low.”

Daily NK verified this information with other sources, all of which confirmed that grocery stores across the country do not officially sell processed foods such as sugar and seasonings. Instead, some stores are apparently selling these products temporarily to cover their sales targets.

In fact, just in the past month stores have reportedly come under review of their monthly sales. Officials of local people’s committees, which run the stores, conducted the inspections.

The Yanggang Province-based source explained that the Workers’ Party apparatus receives monthly sales reports from grocery stores. As a result, store managers, at their own discretion, sold non-grain groceries to meet state-mandated sales targets.

Daily NK also understands that North Korean authorities have expanded the network of state-run food outlets, opening stores in every dong, or inner-city districts. In Hyesan, Yanggang Province, stores opened in Songu-dong and Hyegang-dong, while in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, stores opened in Nammun-dong, Yuson 1-dong and Yuson 2-dong.

In this undated photo, a North Korean market official (wearing a red ribbon with yellow letters on her sleeve) is on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan province. /Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities have “positively evaluated” the establishment of the new grocery stores, according to the source.

In fact, members of the ruling party’s Central Committee believe that if stores are established in a stable manner, government officials can restore state control over business and economic activity. In short, the North Korean authorities hope that the state can easily adjust food supplies and prices thanks to the new grocery stores.

Mid-level managers responsible for managing the grocery store program, however, believe the government still has difficulty providing large quantities of grain.

Moreover, many North Korean farmers are apparently very unhappy with food stores.

“It becomes difficult to feed yourself, even if you farm all your life until your back is bent,” a farmer in South Pyongan province told Daily NK. “Discontent is emerging everywhere with the state forcing penniless farmers to sell their food [to the government] at low prices. »

The farmer went on to note that “farmers use the money they earn from farming one year to buy fertilizer and other supplies to farm the next year,” and asked rhetorically, “If [the farmers] earning so little money, won’t that have an impact on next year’s harvest? »

Moreover, grocery stores would have little tangible impact on ordinary people since so few consumers actually visit the stores.

“Food stores have very little rice or corn to sell,” the Yanggang province-based source said. “And the food they got was just enough to sell some cheap grain to the soldiers [discharged with] honors, former military officers and military families. Ordinary people were not affected at all by the [emergence] food stores.