Editor’s note: This commentary was written by CJ Foodville USA President Tony Hunsoo Ahn.
Georgia has a nearly unmatched record in creating jobs for state residents by attracting investment from South Korea. The most recent evidence of that is the announcement that our company, CJ Foodville USA, will build a $47 million bakery and food processing plant in Gainesville, creating nearly 300 new jobs.
Georgians may not know our name or that of our parent company, South Korea’s CJ Group, but they may have encountered our Tous les Jours French-Asian bakeries, four of which are located in the Atlanta area.
A French-Asian bakery combines the best tastes of both continents. We sell breads and butter cream cakes, as well as red bean doughnuts and kimchi croquettes. We call it a K-bakery, and we look forward to adding more Tous les Jours stores across Georgia.
We opened our first Tous les Jours bakery in 2004 and now have nearly 100 stores across the U.S., with a goal of opening 1,000 around the country by 2030.
We understand this is an ambitious plan, but it’s supported by data and it’s right for the U.S., both in terms of market fit and the welcome Tous les Jours has received. At one new bakery we opened in a Midwestern state, demand was so intense the store went through two weeks’ worth of dough in just the first week.
Compared to markets worldwide, the U.S. stands out for its transparency and policy predictability. This is bolstered by the positive feedback and strong loyalty our existing Tous les Jours bakeries in Atlanta and around the U.S. have received from customers.
Our expansion goal would be impossible without our the facility we’re planning for Georgia, which will manufacture frozen dough products that will be distributed to our stores and freshly baked on-site each morning. The new Gainesville plant will supply all of our stores across the United States.
Why did we pick the state for our first U.S. plant? Georgia has a well-established track record for attracting international investors and job-creators and has had particular success in helping South Korean companies locate and put down roots in Georgia. These include Kia Motors, Hyundai Motor and SK On, an affiliate of South Korea’s SK Group.
This is the result of sustained efforts by the Georgia Department of Economic Development as well as local governments to create an environment that is welcoming to South Korean companies. The state has cultivated a business-friendly environment, reduced regulatory constraints and shown a constant willingness to engage with business leaders.
The Korea Society, the leading U.S. organization for promotion relations between the U.S. and South Korea, recently honored the state’s strong record at attracting and retaining Korean investment with its most prestigious award. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has also been a strong ally to companies like ours, accepted the award in New York.
And it’s not just the government; it’s the people who have welcomed us here on a personal level.
In each of my meetings with Gov. Kemp, Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson, Korean Investment Director Yoonie Kim and Tim Evans of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, I have felt their eagerness to embrace our company and their personal warmth. One of the ways we hope to reciprocate this feeling is by relying on locally sourced ingredients at our new Gainesville facility, with a focus on supporting local suppliers.
In addition to its pro-business environment, Georgia offers an excellent, well-educated workforce that we need. And Georgia is ideally situated as a distribution hub for our expansion plans across the Southeast U.S., adding to our stores in Alabama, North Carolina and Florida.
To Korean-Americans, Tous les Jours represents trust and a cherished daily destination. (Our name means “every day” in French.) We have a widespread presence in U.S. cities with large Asian-American populations, so our appeal is not limited to Korean-American customers.
The stores in Georgia, which have been operating for more than a decade, are scheduled for renovation beginning this month. These stores, which are managed by Korean-Americans, are located within H Mart locations. As we expand around Atlanta, we will build stand-alone stores.
We believe part of the U.S. interest in Tous les Jours comes from American consumers’ rising interest in Korean food and Korean culture. Korean food and flavorings are enjoying a spike in popularity. The same is true for Korean culture. South Korea’s “Parasite” cleaned up at the 2020 Oscars, South Korean K-pop group BTS has matched the popularity of the Beatles and the Supremes, and South Korean television shows – led by “Squid Game,” the most-watched show in the history of Netflix – dominate the streaming service.
But none of that would matter if Tous les Jours didn’t offer what Americans want, when they want it. In addition to believing that we make very good food, we feel our growth has benefitted from some macro trends forming among U.S. consumers.
The first is a preference for quality over quantity, especially post-pandemic. Consumers are pickier with how they spend their food and entertainment dollars. When they make the decision to spend, they want a high-quality experience – not just an experience – in return.
The second is the increased value consumers place on their time, and they are making choices that respect this reality.
For instance, customers have told us they appreciate that our stores open early, when often the only available breakfast options are fast food. And that we stay open late, offering sandwiches in addition to baked goods throughout the day.
Additionally, the Tous les Jours’ cafeteria style self-service – customers select the goods they want and check out quickly, rather than having to wait to be served – has resonated well with busy Georgians.
South Korea and Georgia have made a great match. We are excited to join the economic growth story of the state, introducing more Georgians to kimchi croquettes.
Tony Hunsoo Ahn is CEO of CJ Foodville USA.