By Alek Sigley, Tongil Tours founder and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
In North Korea there’s a brand that specialises in ice cream and bottled drinks that is as far as I can tell, much loved by local people. It uses one of the country’s most recognisable architectural landmarks for its name and logo– the May the 1st Stadium, where North Korea’s famous mass gymnastics celebrations are held. The May the 1st Stadium (5월1일경기장) brand manufactures its products in its own plant, and sells them in shops and snack stalls all over the country, as well as in a newly-opened specialty store on Ryomyong Street, on the other end of the road from the Kim Il Sung University Foreign Student Dormitory.
According to the Choson Shinbo newspaper, the May 1st Stadium brand began in 2006 as a work unit within the stadium itself, where the Arirang Mass Games were being held. They began producing ice cream to sell to the spectators, in the beginning making a fermented bean flavour, a mung bean flavour, and then a honey milk flavour, all of which were reportedly very popular. Things took off and they began selling their ice creams at snack stalls in the rest of Pyongyang, and then in other cities in the DPRK too.
These days, the May the 1st Stadium brand makes a diverse range of products, from ice cream to yoghurt, energy drinks to jelly, in a wide range of flavours. It is also employing advertising to promote its wares, placing it at the forefront of North Korea’s fledgling consumer culture. Its ice creams and drinks sell for around 2,000 local Korean won. That’s less than 25c USD. Let’s take a look at some of its products, starting with its ice cream.
Now let’s look at some of the May the 1st Stadium brand’s beverages.
The May 1st Stadium brand also manufactures this sports drink series which comes packaged in a dumbbell-shaped bottle. After you’ve consumed your drink, you can fill the bottle with a mixture of water and sand to make a 1kg weight. That’ll give you something to use your newfound energy on!
According to the label, the red no. 1 energy drink, “strengthens muscles”, “improves competition performance”, and “increases height”. The yellow no. 2 purportedly “deals with fatigue”, “increases height”, and “improves ability to study”.
Aside from ice cream and beverages, the May the 1st Stadium brand also produces jellies.
The May the 1st Stadium Brand has also become one of the first brands to set up its own specialty store (like that of Naegohyang in one of my previous posts). I first stumbled across this shop while exploring Ryomyong Street with some of the other Kim Il Sung University foreign students (Han Sol and Victor who I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and Sasha, a Korean Uzbek on short term summer exchange from his university in Moscow). The store is well-located, situated right in the heart of Ryomyong Street next to the 70 Storey Apartment (the tallest building in the street). It is well decorated and maintained, and deals exclusively in May the 1st Stadium brand products.
The shop is also decorated with this rather nicely designed clock.
Stuck to the bottom of the fridges were some flyers advertising some of the May the 1st Stadium brand’s new products.
For a few years already I’ve noticed that although the streets and television channels are devoid of advertising, you can find flyers such as these inside shops and other retail spaces. I also noticed some of these flyers stuck inside the windows of snack stalls outside, such as in the photo below.
The May the 1st Stadium Brand also maintains a strong presence at the Pyongyang International Trade Fair. At this spring’s fair, I noticed it had placed two prominent advertisements outside the exhibition hall. It also maintained a booth which seemed quite popular. This booth had a screen by the side advertising some of its new products, including the dumbbell energy drink.
Anyway, it’s one to watch out for. And who knows? One day it may come to a supermarket near you!