By Monica Williams

SIWA Member Jamie Melnychuk is owner of Sprout, a healthy plant-based, take-out food service.

Sprout specializes in offering delicious, healthy, and convenient meals to take home or for home delivery. The rotating menu includes items like Mexican Lentil Stew, Thai Green Curry Noodles with Mixed Seasonal Vegetables and Raw Mint Chocolate Chip Pie. For breakfast, there’s Banana Bread Millet Breakfast Bowl with Nuts and Seeds, for starters.

Melnychuk, a holistic nutritionist, started the business after her clients fell in love with her meal suggestions and began to request she make them.

SIWA Discovery Magazine talked with Melnychuk about veganism in Seoul, how she came to start Sprout and the atmosphere for starting a business in Seoul.

Edited excerpts follow:

Discovery: Tell us about yourself.

Jamie Melnychuk: I’m a prairie girl from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and I’ve been in Korea for over 10 years. I have always been athletic and interested in nutrition which led me to study Holistic Nutrition through the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, where I received a diploma in Holistic Nutrition in 2011.

I was married and divorced in Korea and I have a 5-year-old son who was born here. Before I was a mom I was an avid rugby player in Canada and became a member of the Seoul Sisters Rugby team in Korea.

When I was in my early 20s I went to Hong Kong for an internship program. I studied Asian business management. I traveled around Asia after my internship and fell in love with the continent and I knew I would come back one day. I went back to Canada to finish my degree and during that time my closest friend from elementary school had moved to Korea to teach English and had many good things to say about it and she convinced me to come and teach for a year. Ten years later, I’m still here!

Discovery: What is SPROUT and how did you come to start the business? How does it work?

SPROUT is a take-out and delivery food service. Our main benefits are that we are a convenient solution to eat healthy and delicious food. SPROUT makes food that is not only vegan, we also focus on natural whole foods and exclude any ingredients that are overprocessed. This means that we don’t use common ingredients like white sugar, white flour, white rice or tofu. All of the food from SPROUT is packaged to go and ready to eat. We offer full meal plans that include breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack or dessert each day or customers can also choose just the items that they want without a meal plan. We deliver anywhere in Korea and we also have a pick-up location in Haebangchon (HBC), Seoul. Our customers are often busy professionals and students who find it difficult to find or prepare healthy meals with international flavors while maintaining busy lives in Korea.Weight loss, increased energy and a sense of well being are all common benefits of the healthy diet that SPROUT helps make possible. The fact that no animal-based products are used also contributes to a sustainable and ethical world that benefits us all.


Discovery: Why did you see a need for it?

Korea is an incredible country that attracts people from all over the world to live, study and work. We live busy lifestyles that include long workdays and rich social lives. For many people who come from abroad, the difficulty can be finding not only the ingredients but also the time to prepare, cook, store and package home-cooked meals. As a working mom, the idea of waking up in the morning, opening my fridge and having all of my meals for the day ready to go seemed like only a dream. As a nutritionist, I used to offer seminars and workshops to small groups. It was during these sessions that people told me that they also had a hard time with their diets and wished I could just make their food so they could take it home after the workshops. This led to the first beginnings of SPROUT!

Discovery: How difficult was it to start a business in Korea?

Starting a business in Korea as an expat has a number of challenges. I highly recommend finding a good Korean partner. It’s possible to go it alone but unless you are highly proficient in the Korean language as well as have experience doing business in Korea, I wouldn’t recommend it.

There are a number of basic obstacles to overcome such as capital investment, visas, regulations and documentation, suppliers, real estate and staffing. This is all assuming that you have already overcome the biggest obstacle of figuring out what you want to do.

If you have a great idea, start with a business plan. The business plan makes you think about how your idea could be turned into a business. It’s really more about the process of actually completing the business plan and considering all of the issues than it is about producing some sort of flashy document for a presentation. The business plan is for you so don’t overlook it.

Discovery: How hard is it to be a vegan in Seoul?

Being vegan is harder in Korea than in some countries but it’s not impossible. There are neighborhood farm markets and fruit and veggie stands, and international ingredients can be ordered from overseas or found in some large stores or foreign food markets. Because Korea has an eat-out or order-in culture and low awareness of veganism, this can be where the most difficulty lies. Vegan options are not widely available at most restaurants so when you are not at home or wish to order in, it can be much more challenging than even vegetarian for example.

But It seems like there is a growing awareness of healthy lifestyles in general and vegan and vegetarian restaurants as well as options in restaurants are becoming more popular. This is seen mostly in the younger generation of Koreans who are aware of global environmental concerns, animal rights as well as the detrimental effects on your body that a diet of meat based, processed and fried foods has.

This decade there have been a number of revelations about a startling obesity epidemic in Korea. Koreans may set a lower BMI benchmark than many OECD countries but the fact that nearly 1 in 4 Koreans were classified as obese by the Korean standard in 2013 is shocking. The problem is mostly concentrated in young people where child obesity is similar to rates in the USA. This awareness has lead people to examine their diets and look for alternatives.