Spam can’t be that popular – can it?
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Uncle Sam wants to know if you’re buying too much Spam.
He also wants to know if you’re buying too much baby formula, vitamins or beer — all items U.S. Forces Korea officials believe are being bought on bases and resold on the South Korean black market.
“There’s a huge write-up on the local economy for it,” said Lt. Col. William Brooks, chief of USFK Customs.
USFK will install a computer tracking system in all Army and Air Force Exchange Service shoppettes in South Korea by the end of November to monitor how many of those items a customer purchases. That system is now in place at commissaries and three Yongsan Garrison shoppettes. The rest of the shoppettes still track their sales manually.
Customers can buy as much of those items as they want, with the exception of beer. But the computer system will flag a customer who buys unusually large numbers of an item, and buys more than the allotted limit of beer.
That person’s commander is notified if customs officials suspect he or she is reselling items on the black market, Brooks said.
According to a USFK regulation, customers are allowed to buy two cases of beer a day and eight cases a month, but until now, there has been no way to track it.
A military police blotter entry published Friday in The Morning Calm command newspaper highlighted one woman who now is under investigation for “purchasing in excess of personal needs.”
According to the entry, the woman bought four Dual Package Dove bars, nine Pantene hair products, four bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo, five Aveeno skin care products, eight makeup products, eight packages of medicine, 12 packages of candy, 15 hygiene items, six bottles of vitamins and other items.
When she was stopped by military police, beer, wine and whiskey were discovered in her car, according to the report.
Sometimes, the customer has good reason for buying in bulk, Brooks said. But officials often find that if shoppers buy too much of one product, they’re buying to sell on the black market.
“What will generally pop up is a pattern of excess,” he said.
USFK customs officials decided to track sales at shoppettes based on reports of customers buying items in large numbers, their popularity in South Korean shopping areas such as Seoul’s Namdaemun Market, and sales volume at commissaries.
In South Korea, meat products — a category that includes Spam — are the most popular seller. Baby formula ranks sixth, and vitamins rank eighth. Spam probably ranks in the top 25 on its own, Brooks said.
Brooks said Spam’s popularity in South Korea may be a legacy of the Korean War, when the potted meat product was a staple food. Spam is now typically given in gift sets during South Korea’s major holidays, Chuseok and the Lunar New Year.