Our Korea-based reporter investigates!

Pokémon, with a popularity that transcends gender, age, and nationality, naturally has a dedicated fan following in Korea. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Korean food maker SPC Samlip’s rerelease of nostalgic Pokémon baked goods, which come with a sticker inside, suddenly became all the rage (though surely a BTS member posting about it on Instagram helped).

In fact, though they’re no different from the ordinary bread and sweets you’ll find at any supermarket or convenience store in Korea, they’ve become so in demand that they’re hard to find…and people are even reselling them online.

Our Korea-based reporter Soon Pyon’s is here to give us a Korean perspective on the fad, and provide us with an insight into why the Pokémon-branded baked goods have become so popular.

The baked range is known as “Pocket Monsters Pan (Pocket Monsters Bread)” (or “Pokémon Pan” for short) and were originally sold around the time the original anime was broadcast in Korea, two years after it aired in Japan in 1997. Soon Pyon’s was in preschool at the time, but he remembers the huge popularity of the series.

Samlip won the license to sell the bread, which, even then, came with a random Pokémon sticker inside. For Soon Pyon’s and his generation, there are a lot of memories packed into these baked goods and the stickers that came with them. Though the sweets themselves were tasty enough, the real draw was the stickers; Soon Pyon’s and his classmates would often use their allowances to buy the bread so they could collect as many as they could. Some would even buy them just for the stickers and throw the bread away.

Today, the rereleased version retails for about 15,000 won for a pack of 10 (which is about 1,500 yen or US$11.87), or about 1,500 won per piece. That’s the price listed on Samlip’s website and the standard price at most supermarkets and convenience stores, and it probably hasn’t changed much since the late ’90s. When Soon Pyon’s generation were children, 1,500 won was a lot of money, but as adults in their twenties and thirties, many now have plenty of change to spare, and they’ve been using it to buy up these baked goods fast.

As soon as they came out, people snatched them up, and they have remained scarce for months. Some people even wait in the stores late through the night for shipments to arrive and then buy everything up as soon as the clerks stock them. And of course, when there’s a scarcity, there are scalpers. A single item–an ordinary sweet with a sticker inside–can sell for as much as 7,980 won online!

Soon Pyon’s decided he wanted to see if there was a true scarcity, so he embarked on a journey to find at least one Pokémon Pan. As it turned out, it was not going to be easy.

▼ The sign on the door reads, “We do not sell Pokémon Pan.”

For one, some stores have completely stopped selling them. Because people were loitering for hours in and around the store waiting for the goods to come in, the workers got fed up and stopped ordering them altogether.

▼ The sign reads, “My name is Professor Oak. Pokémon Pan is sold out!”

But those that are selling them can’t keep them in stock and have to post signs to warn people that they don’t have any. Some even use Pokémon characters to break the news, like Professor Oak and even Wobbuffet.

▼ “Pokémon Pan is sold out? Wobbuffet!”

In the end, Soon Pyon’s had to go to 27 convenience stores and four supermarkets before he found some Pokémon Pan. He walked so much that, were he walking in Pokémon Silver or Gold, he would have probably encountered a wandering legendary Pokémon at least once. Finally, after searching for a full day, he managed to get these five.

Though there are, in total, 12 kinds of Pokémon Pan, he only managed to find four. The one Soon Pyon’s most remembered from his childhood was the Ghastly Bread. His friends who only wanted the sticker used to give him this one because it was one of his favorites.

Soon Pyon’s was eager to relive its nostalgic flavor. It was a chocolate pound cake with chocolate cream in the middle that Soon Pyon’s quickly remembered was best eaten with milk. Regardless of the hype around it, though, it was really quite an ordinary sweet.

Perhaps the biggest appeal of these baked goods is still the sticker; people love to collect things, after all. Apparently, the elusive Mew sticker can sell for 50,000 won online. In his baked goods, Soon Pyon’s got stickers of Abra, Primate, Zapdos, Charmander, and Magikarp.

Not a bad haul! Soon Pyon’s was pretty excited to get Charmander, a first-generation starter, and the legendary Pokémon Zapdos. All 151 of the original Pokémon are represented in the stickers, and some popular Pokémon like Pikachu have multiple varieties, so there are altogether 159 stickers to collect.

Soon Pyon’s could understand why people might want to collect these stickers again. He’d thought something was wrong with the people who keep buying up all of these baked goods, but once he’d unveiled the stickers hiding inside, he understood why people have been going so crazy for them. It was kind of exciting to have them in his hands again, and it brought him back to a time when collecting all things Pokémon was the rage, a nostalgic time full of fond memories.

In today’s stressful world, it’s natural to want to get a taste of the experiences we had as children. But Soon Pyong’s can’t help but feel sad that the Great Pokémon Pan Revival, which should have been a happy occasion, had to become such a contest.

But that’s the way it is with popular items these days. Like PS5s, Pokémon cards, and even chocolate milk enhancers, when there’s a demand, there will be people fighting to get them, and scalpers waiting in the wings to swoop in and snatch everything up to resell at a premium. We can only hope the fervor will eventually die down enough so those who truly want them will be able to buy them at a reasonable price…like the children they were initially meant for!

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[ Read in Japanese ]