Milk tea brands cover their sins with artificial sweeteners

It is not news that milk tea is outrageously popular in China. Young people are at times willing to line up for ours to sample a new flavour of a newly opened shop. However, there is clash of interests in the popularity of the colourful beverages. Chinese consumers are talking all day about more healthy eating and drinking milk tea definitely does not fit into that realm.

The various brands are engaged in a murderous competition and the less than healthy image of the product does not make that battle easier. Recently, the brands have started to work on that image and their competition for the healthiest version has become as fierce as the one for market share.

A relatively easy aspect to work on is sweetness. In line with the ongoing no sugar no salt no fat vogue in the food and drinks markets, many top brands have started advertising with their favourite sugar substitute. In this post, I am showing a few of these ads.


Nayuki (Naixue) has chosen the monk fruit (luohanguo or arhat fruit, in Chinese). This gives its sweetening a very Chinese image. The ad claims 0 calorie sweetener and also adds that it is ‘vegetable sweetness’, which sounds very natural.

Hi Tea

Hi tea (Xicha) is is sweetening with stevia. This, according to the ad, decreases the energy content with 90%. The ad also tells us twice that stevia is a natural sweetener. This is supported by the Chinese name for stevia: tianjutang, literally ‘sweet chrysanthemum sugar’.

Baifen Tea

Baifen Tea (Baifencha) has selected a less common sweetener: L-arabinose. The add uses a pun ‘pa tang bu pa tang’ ‘afraid of sugar not afraid of sugar’. This is based on the fact that the final character of the Chinese translation of arabinose (alabotang ‘arabian sugar’) is tang. A minor problem with arabinose is that Baifen Tea cannot claim zero calories, as this sweetener is low caloric.

Anyway, Chinese milk tea companies keep looking for more alternative sweeteners as well as alternative ingredients for the fatty ingredients. I will keep you abreast on this page.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.

The Chinese creatine industry (2022)

Creatine is an amino acid located in the body’s muscles as well as in the brain. Most people get creatine through seafood and red meat. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also can make about 1 gram of creatine per day. The body stores creatine as phosphocreatine primarily in the muscles, where it is used for energy. As a result, body builders take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.


Creatine is made up of arginine, glycine and methionine The substances synthesized by three amino acids can be synthesized by the human body itself or ingested from food, and the common creatine on the market currently includes creatine monohydrate, complex creatine and creatine compounds. Creatine not only provides energy quickly, but also increases strength, builds muscle, and speeds up fatigue recovery. The more creatine is stored in the body, the more energy is supplied, the faster fatigue recovery and the stronger the exercise energy. Creatine can be used as a nutritional enhancer, food additive, pharmaceutical raw material and health care product additive, and can also be directly made into capsules and tablets for oral administration; In addition, creatine can also be used as a cosmetic surfactant, feed additive and creatine derivative.

The industry

Compared with overseas markets, the Chinese creatine industry has certain advantages in raw materials, energy and environmental protection. Driven by the downstream market, the capacity growth of the domestic creatine industry is high, but the overall capacity utilization rate leaves to be desired, with a capacity utilization rate in 2021 ofchina approximately 67.3%. In 2021, the domestic creatine production capacity was 43,000 tons. Actual production was 28,949 tons, with a compound growth rate since 2016 of 6.52%。


At present, Chinese creatine is mainly exported as primary product. Foreign markets are more mature, domestic market consumption is still in the development stage, but with the growth of demand for creatine downstream applications, the creatine market is expected to grow in the near future. The domestic demand for creatine in 2021 was 7808 mt, with a compound growth rate of demand since 2016 of 7.78%.

Creatine is widely used in medicine, food, health products, feed, chemical industry and other fields, in 2021, the demand for creatine in the fields of medicine, food and health products in China was 3425 tons, and the demand for creatine in feed, chemical industry and other fields 4383 tons.


With the issuance of the Opinions of the State Council on the Implementation of the Healthy China Initiative and the Healthy China Action (2019-2030), a disease management and health service model of combining medical and physical education is currently being promoted at full speed. This has become a new trend of cross-integration of the big health industry and the big sports industry and is expected to give a big boost to China’s sports nutrition industry. With the improvement of the living standards of Chinese consumers, the demand for sports nutrition products is rising, and a large number of people want to take sports supplements to improve sports performance or improve physical condition. 30% of Chinese (urban) citizens were regular exercisers in 2020, though only a minority of them were members of a local gym.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.

Top 5 Chinese food and beverage companies for selected industries

The Chinese site Food Forum has published the top 5 companies for a number of industries. I am listing them in this blog. It is useful to stay in touch with who is on top in China. I have added links to posts in which a company is introduced, but I advise interested readers to search for posts discussing all these companies using the search function of this site.


RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)


RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)
2Nongfu Spring296.96
3China Food197.84
4China Resources113.79-122.36

Alcoholic beverages

RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)
3China Resources333.87


RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)
2Yangpu Nanhua113.02 (2020)
3COFCO Sugar87.11

Leisure food

RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)
1Three Squirrels97.70
2Liangpin Puzi91.44
4Weilong Meiwei48.00

Cereal products

RankCompany2021 turnover (RMB 100 mln)
1Chef Kong732.50

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.

Herbal tea – China’s recent beverage trend.

I have discussed herbal teas in earlier posts, in particular Wanglaoji. Recently, a number of similar drinks, based on a variety of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs, have appeared. Possibly under the influence of the ‘national trend (guochao)’, young Chinese consumers are started to drink these beverage in a similar way as we (some of us) eat their daily handful of supplements.

I will introduce the most popular ones in this post, including their lists of ingredients. This lists show a broad variety in naturalness. The header of each product consists of the producrer and the product name.

Yangxiecheng – Chinese mesona beverage

Ingredients: water, sugar, Chinese mesona, distarch phosphate.

Genki Forest – Qiancha

Ingredients: concentrated maize juice (water, baked maize), concentrated maize tassel juice (water, maize tassel), maize tassel powder, glutinous rice powder, VC, sodium bicarbonate, food flavour.

Podu – white tea beverage

Ingredients: water, white tea, concentrated oolong tea, alginose, vine tea, orange peel, acesulfame-k, food flavour.

Taifu – Wax gourd job’s tears water

Ingredients: water, sugar, job’s tears powder, concentrated wax gourd juice.

Wanshoukang – Dendrobium drink

Ingredients: water, erythritol, dendrobium devonianum.

Zuixi – Almond tea beverage

Ingredients: water, almonds, erythritol, rock sugar, resistant starch, red dates, monkfruit, stevia.

N12 – Tangerine peel white tea beverage

Ingredients: water, erythritol, polydextrose, tangerine peel, white tea.

Renhe – Honeysuckle Dew

Ingredients: water, sugar, glucose syrup, honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, mint, VC, acesulfame-K, food flavour.

Lianshuang – Lotus leaf tea

Ingredients: water, rock sugar, lotus leaves, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle.

Guizhou Miao Girl – Yigancao drink

Ingredients: water, Houttuynia cordata (chameleon plant), taraxacum mongolicum, gardenia, red raspberry, kuding tea, arrow root, goji, date, liquorice.

Eastern God – Cordyceps Beverage

Ingredients: water, alginose, isaria sinclairii, goji, cordyceps, chrysanthemum, hibiscus.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.

China’s new funky ice creams for the 2022 summer

Banana shaped ice cream, bear paw ice cream, nationalist ice cream, black garlic ice cream . . . it’s only a small selection of the odd shaped and flavoured ice creams with which Chinese can cool themselves during the coming hot season.

As the temperatures are rising rapidly in all regions of China, the ice cream makers are running overtime in filling the retail outlets with their latest products. Earlier, I reported on various new savoury ice creams. In this post, I will give you a peep into the most important trends in this product group for this year.

Guochao – national trend

I have introduced this trend in a recent post. It is one that I expect to last for a considerable and has plenty of potential to grow. It is not simply a trend among consumers, but one that is linked to the international political climate. As China is being attacked by Western politicians and media for multiple perceived ills, and the reaction of the Chinese nation is a growing interest in traditional Chinese values and other things Chinese. In the food and beverage industries, this is leading to the launching of foods in traditional shapes, traditional flavours, packaging inspired by old Chinese stories, etc.

Chicecream (Zhongxuegao) was and remains the leader in this segment. Look at a picture of a one of the latest products of this company.

These are regular pieces of art, with Chinese wisdom printed on the handles. I can imagine that you are hesitant to take the first bite after taking off the wrapper. However, after finishing the ice cream part, you will see that the first half of the proverb on the handle was hidden under the edible part. So, the cultural experience does not stop with finishing the food. In fact, if I were the marketing manager of Chicecream, I would launch a campaign in which consumers could get a free ice cream by handing in a complete set of all different proverbs.

A new ice cream with a traditional flavour has been launched by one of China’s oldest surviving seasoning makers: Liubiju (Beijing). Check out is ‘black garlic ice cream’.

I will add my tasting experience as soon as I am back in Beijing again.

Funny shapes

The number of shapes in which ice cream is sold world wide is rather small (blocks, popsicles, cones, etc.). This is now changing radically in China. Dongbei Daban (Big Boss from the Northeast) has launched a ‘big fish tail’ ice cream.

Don’t worry about its taste; it is blueberry-flavoured and contains no fishy ingredients.

Here are two other odd shapes: twisted banana and bear paw


A number of ice creams with a fancy high-end appearance have been launched as well. There is the new pineapple ice cream by Dongbei Daban.

The combination of yellow pineapple ice cream, dark shiny chocolate and the sharply cut shape makes it a genuine piece of art, again.

Mengniu’s brand Suixinguo has added a ‘7-layer’ ice cream. Under its chocolate coat you will encounter blueberries, chocolate beads, orange sherbet and more.

This ice cream is not so much a piece of art as an adventure; a new experience with each bite.

Is that all? By all means: no! This is just a peek, not a full market report. If you want that report: you know where to find us.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success

Top Chinese regions for various foods

It has been a while since I placed a post about the regional variation of food in China. That post focused on typical local produce and traditional dishes and snacks.

Today, I am posting some information about the regional distribution of the production of a few major product groups. There is a certain relation between that distribution and the information in the previous post, but also distinct discrepancies, linked to facts like the presence of a major producer, the location of large urban centres in a province, etc. There are also interesting differences between more traditional products and foods related to the modern life style. In other words, today’s post is a genuine ‘Chinese food and culture’ one.

I will illustrate the distribution in the form of tables indicating the top 3 production regions (provinces) of each product in terms of percentage of the total national volume of 2021. The total of those percentages is a good indication of the degree of concentration of that product.


The dairy industry is traditionally concentrated in the norther half of China, which makes sense as dairy cows prefer a cooler climate. A consequence of this was that most Chinese in the south would drink milk reconstituted from milk powder. Recently, the production of fresh pasteurised or UHT milk has increased considerably in the major urban regions. Look at the differences in the distribution of milk powder and liquid milk production.

Milk powder 
Inner Mongolia11.2
Liquid milk 
Inner Mongolia12.3

Heilongjiang, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia are all traditional dairy regions. Hebei as well, though much smaller. However, Hebei supplies dairy products to the large Beijing – Tianjin urban conglomerate, and is the home of some of the country’s top dairy processors.


Although most Westerners still perceive Chinese as eating rice as a staple, the Northern Chinese traditionally eat wheat products. The most popular wheat product traditionally is flour. Chinese use it to make dumplings, mantou (steamed bread), noodles, and many other products at home. This does not always agree with the pace of life of the modern city dweller and even Chinese living in smaller towns do not want to spend so much time in the kitchen. This is reflected in the distribution of the flour and instant noodles.

Wheat flour 
Instant noodles 

Henan and Shandong together form China’s main wheat belt, hence Henan’s top position for both products. However, the production of instant noodles does not necessarily take place in those provinces. Guangdong and Tianjin are located in major urban regions (the Pearl River Delta and the Beijing – Tianjin region) and local production there makes distribution a lot easier.



China has a wide range of traditional sweets, but candy is a Western product. This is probably the reason that production is concentrated in the richer southern coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. These are also sugar cane regions. Hubei is an exception.

Alcoholic beverages

Alcoholic beverages 

Sichuan has been the top producer of traditional Chinese spirits (baijiu) for many years. Although beer and wine are growing in China, the big money makers are still the spirits. Shandong’s position is probably related to the availability of cereals, but it is also the home of Tsingtao Beer and is China’s oldest wine region. Guangdong’s third position is based on beer, which is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Pearl River Delta is one of China’s most affluent regions.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success

China’s silver hairs are challenging the single dogs

Old age has always been held in high regard in China. A special age was 60. The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 heavenly stems and five earthly branches, together forming a 60-year cycle. Once you had lived an entire cycle, you were an experienced person, to be treated with respect. The best cuts of meat were reserved for the elderly during a family dinner. There was also a downside. Old people were supposed to stay home as much as possible, because they were considered too weak to walk for more than 10 to 20 minutes, let alone to travel. Pampered by their loved ones, with the best of intentions, Chinese elderly aged more rapidly than was necessary.

This tradition continued until recently. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a pension system was installed, in which men would retire at 60 and women at 55. This is still intact, although in some professions, people can work a few years longer. The rationing of basic foods like cereals or milk, a system that was in operation until the early 1980s, included special care for the elderly in a household.

Due to a strict family planning policy introduced in 1970s, in which each couple was only allowed to have one child, the Chinese population was ageing rapidly. At the end of 2017, the official Chinese population count was approximately 1.39 billion. The age bracket of 60 years and higher was 17.3% – or 240.9 million people. That ratio had been rising consistently from 13.7% in 2011.

The State was still taking care of its elderly as it was obliged to do according to cultural tradition. Pensions increased following the increase in wages in China. Moreover, Chinese are thrifty. Most pensioners have bank deposits that in China still generate interest.

As a result, the Chinese elderly now constitute a considerable market, referred to as the Silver Hair (Yinfa) generation. Unlike the traditional elderly, the modern pensioners want to get as much out of life as their (grand)children. They want to dance, travel, dress well and eat even better. And they want food and drinks that are specially formulated for them.

Chinese consumers spend a relatively high part of their disposable income on food. In 2017 it was 29%. Overall per capita consumer spending in China in 2017 was RMB 18,322 (US$2,716). When we take 29% of that and multiply it with the country’s elderly population, we get a market value of close to RMB 1.3 trillion.

The Chinese government is supporting the development of food for senior citizens. A proposal for a National Standard for the formulation of food for the elderly was issued by the State National Health Commission (China’s former Ministry of Public Health) in September 2018. It contains information like the daily recommended intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for the highest age bracket.

The food industry was one of the first to pick up this trend. A number of dairy brands started to advertise for products for elderly, like specially formulated milk and milk powder. Milk powder for middle-aged and old people by dairy giant Yili is reinforced with vitamins A, D, E, B2, B6 and C and the minerals phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. The picture shows a powder based on colostrum.

SeaMild, China’s first domestic breakfast cereal, already introduced in my post on China’s breakfast revolution, also launched a special formulation for the elderly, with added vitamins A and D and calcium.

The kangaroo betrays the origin of the oat

Other manufacturers are advertising certain foods as especially suitable for senior citizens. A search with ‘elderly’ in the online shop Tmall results in a considerable number of bakery products that claim to be suitable for the older consumer. Many of these are sugar-free. This is based on the belief that elderly should eat less sugar. Sugar is still an important food ingredient in China. Most Chinese still believe those who have to work five days a week need sufficient energy and sugar is a good source of quick energy. Most milk powder produced in China is sweetened, while milk powder for the elderly is typically not.

However, there is an even larger market in which the elderly are the top consumer segment: health foods and supplements. This is rooted in the Chinese tradition. Traditional Chinese medicine refers to many medicines as ‘supplementing’ the diseased body. The modern age has changed the intended function of supplements from keeping the body healthy to making it fit to continue leading an active life after retirement.

A handful of capsules, Omega-3 to slow down ageing, gingko to enhance your cognitive faculty and calcium for stronger bones is becoming a common part of the breakfast ritual of the modern Chinese pensioner. According to e-marketplace 21Food, the turnover of the Chinese health food market (incl. supplements based on Chinese and Western medicine) was RMB 237.6 billion in 2017 and is expected to exceed RMB 20 trillion by 2023.

Nongfu Spring, China’s top producer of bottled water, has launched Lithium Water in 2022. It is said to lower blood pressure and nurture the nervous system of the elderly.

As I am getting older myself, I will follow these developments closely and update this post regularly.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success

China’s single dogs and their punk diet

Chinese society is going through what could be the most radical demographic changes in its entire history. Some of these changes indicate changes in some of the basic Chinese cultural values. One of those values is the highly communitarian character of Chinese culture, which seems to be challenged by the growing number of one-person households.

Age cohorts

Chinese marketeers like to divide the country’s population in cohorts named after a decade – such as the post-80, the post-90 and the post-00. Each group is characterised by a number of distinctive habits and world outlook. The post-80s were born after the end of the Cultural Revolution and have been shaped by the early years of the economic reforms that changed the lives of Chinese so profoundly. They are approaching 40 now and most of them are married and have children. They are much more affluent than their parents but are not big spenders on food, as there are so many other expenditures to worry about. The post-00s form the new generation. They are becoming a market segment of their own but are financially still dependent on their parents. The post-90s are the segment on which this post focuses.

Single dogs

The post-90s are young, well-educated, concentrating on their careers in corporations or their own start-up enterprises. With a few exceptions, they are all only children and have been spoiled by their parents and grandparents, as a result of which they have developed a taste for good food. Moreover, a considerable part of them are single and living by themselves. They may marry once, but they give priority to their careers. A modern term for these people is Single Dogs (danshengou). Experts estimate the number of people in the post-90 cohort at 188 million, approximately 14.1% of the Chinese population. 92 million of them were living a single life in 2021. In spite of their young age, many of the post-90s are complaining about ailments resulting from their demanding lifestyle. A 28-year old female Internet programmer is quoted as saying: “I used to buy supplements for my parents, now half of the supplements I buy are for my own consumption.” To cash in on this trend, food producers and retailers have started making and selling single-portion packed versions of a large spectrum of foods and drinks. This photo is a screen shot of a random selection of such products on the site of an online retailer.

Punk diet

One of the ‘bad’ habits many of them share is staying up late, or even regularly skipping sleep altogether. A survey has shown that 44% of the 19 – 25 years cohort stay up until after midnight. In order to stay awake, they need aoyeshui night owl beverages (literary: staying up all night water)’. Most of these are based on the milk tea drinks that have become so popular among young Chinese. Some also contain traditional Chinese medicinal herbs, which links these drinks to the nationalist trend (guochao). A term that has become fashionable among the same post-90/post-2000 consumer segment is pengke yangsheng, or the ‘punk diet’: nutritious food presented as junk food. The choice of this term indicates that these consumers give themselves a kind of subcultural status. A food to think about in this context is the energy bar. Energy bars are the ideal ‘punk diet’ food. They can be consumed with one hand, while the other remains functional (e.g., for moving a mouse). They provide energy, but are also a source of fibre and nutrients, so comforting to both your stomach and your consciousness. The Chinese name for this product, yingyangbang, literally means: ‘nutrition stick’. Nuts, a natural source of nutrients, form a common ingredient, but you can add whatever you want, or, better, is allowed by the local regulations. Another occasion for consuming energy bars in China is what I would like to translate as ‘après fitness’ (jianshenhou). The Chinese are only just starting to ski but fitness centres are extremely popular. One recent study states that there are more than 43 million patrons of fitness centres. After a tough spell on a treadmill, you need something that gives you energy without making you gain weight again. The same study mentions energy bars as the most favourite après fitness snack.

A company to note in this context is Hengmei Food Science & Technology, based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, so a neighbour of Alibaba. Hengmei profiles itself as a private-label sports-nutrition and weight-management manufacturer, but also includes an R&D department that is headed by one of Hengmei’s founders, Zheng Yadan. The department has designed a broad range of energy bars. Ms. Zheng personally has a number of meal replacer energy bar patents to her name.

The English expression ‘Hello bar’ on the top of this product is a translation of ni hao bang 你好棒. This actually has two meanings: ‘Hello bar’ and ‘You are great’

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success

Dirty coffee – the next stage in China’s emerging coffee market

In several earlier blogs, I reported that coffee consumption in China is soaring, to the point that we can speak of a coffee culture. This trend has been developing constantly and now I feel comfortable to announce that a uniquely Chinese coffee culture is in place. This culture is affected by a number of recent trends: the nationalist trend and the punk-diet of the growing group of young single professionals.

  • Guochao – or the ‘national trend’; A trend that currently affects virtually every aspect of Chinese society is guochao, or the ‘national trend’, which encompasses a renewed interest in traditional Chinese culture (both material and immaterial). The economic reforms of the late 20th century made many (then) young Chinese turn their back on traditions, seeking new solutions in the present and in the western world. This is now changing. The shift can be partly linked to the enormous advancement of Chinese science and technology. Chinese now have a lot to be proud of. Recent anti-Chinese sentiments in the West are another driver of this trend. The national trend is noticeable in several aspects, including on packaging and the use of traditional Chinese symbols.
  • Pengke yangsheng – the ‘punk diet’ A trend that has appeared among the same post-90/post-2000 consumer segment is pengke yangsheng, or the ‘punk diet’. These consumers tend to work late, often until after midnight. They smoke less than their parents, but eat irregularly, with a preference for snacks and sweets, that can be eaten in front of your PC. However, these consumers also want to stay fit and healthy. They frequent the gym, but also try to get nutrition from convenience foods enriched with nutrients. These can be vitamins and minerals, but also extracts from traditional Chinese medicinal (TCM) herbs.

As for the nationalist trend, China’s home grown coffee is gaining market share in its home market. ‘Imported coffee’ is no longer automatically perceived as superior to the domestic bean. Another guochao development is that China’s leading TCM pharmacy, Tongrentang, has established a coffee shop concept in which you can order coffee enriched with various TCM herbs.

The influence of the punk diet trend is much stronger. It has led to coining the concept of ‘dirty coffee’. Dirty coffee is a relatively new type of coffee made by pouring hot espresso over extremely cold milk. It’s become popular in Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. In China, the expression is evolving to adding lots of ingredients that you would not normally associate with coffee. This trend is undoubtedly also informed by the immensely popular milk tea of which young Chinese can consume several litres per day. Luckin Coffee was the first to introduce the term dirty coffee.

Various other chains quickly followed suit. The following photo shows two dirty coffees from the fancy chain Vista Coffee.

Vist Coffee’s dirty coffees with odd colours

The ‘dirtiest’ picture that I have come across sofar is also provided by Vista: coffee with two youtiao (fried dough sticks) stuck into it. To make the dirty impression complete, they have added a plate of fish as well. Youtiao is a traditional food, so this picture also reflects the nationalist trend. Why would you only drink tea with your dim sum?

The developments proceed rapidly, so this blog is a little messy, which suits the dirty image of the products I am introducing here. I will keep you up to date as usual.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success

Hot Pot – how a traditional way of eating has developed into a complete market

If there is one Chinese dish, or better: eating experience, that virtually all foreigners who have been to China enjoy, it is hot pot. The most traditional version is what Chinese refer to as shuan yangrou, literally ‘dipping mutton’. Eaters dip thinly sliced mutton in a boiling broth in the middle of the table, then dip it in a sauce with sesame paste as its base and other flavourings added on the basis of personal preference. While mutton is the main ingredient, various vegetables, bean curd, mushrooms, etc., can be dipped as well. This used to be winter favourite for the northern Chinese, as it is a way of eating that warms you up inside and outside. I hold dear memories of hot pot from my first winter in Beijing in 1975.


The consumption of hot pot increased with the growing spending power of Chinese consumers. This heightened interest caused a number of changes, adapting to the higher variation of likings of the patrons, also incorporating new technologies. Apart from mutton, beef and other types of meat were added. The charcoal as a source of heat was gradually changed to alcohol gel, which is considerably less smelly, and later electricity.

North versus South

The traditional northern hot pot also got influenced by the southern type. Southern Chinese have a different concept of hot pot. They throw about everything edible in a pot and fish it out using small metal nets. The Chongqing version uses a very spicy broth. Southern hot pot includes meat, but it is not the core ingredient. Most private restaurateurs who set up hot pot restaurants could not afford to stick to the shuan yangrou tradition and name there cuisine literally huoguo ‘hot pot’ (literally: ‘fire pot’). Hot pot gradually became an equivalent of a way of communal eating that required little effort. At home, you just placed a pan of broth on an induction plate, surrounded with plates with various raw ingredients. The same applied to hot pot restaurants, where the main activity in the kitchen was slicing meat and vegetables.

The Chongqing version with a spicy and a non-spicy half

Instant hot pot

A new development in the Chinese convenience food market is the appearance of self-heating noodles, congee, etc. Instant hot pots appeared soon afterwards. The photo shows a typical Chongqing hot pot with a spicy and non-spicy section by Qingxixi, launched in 2021. Qingxixi promotes the product as only containing zero fat or low fat ingredients.

A whole new market

Probably also aided by the renewed interest in home cooking caused by COVID-19, the hot pot rage has recently created an complete new market for packed hot pot ingredients. Hot pot chains like Haodilao started this by selling ready-to-use blocks of hot pot condiments. You simply melted it in hot water and you had an instant dipping broth. Meat processors followed suit by launching packed sliced mutton and beef. Fish followed soon. Chopped and sliced vegetables also appeared on the shelves of Chinese supermarkets. A recent study estimates the value of the market for hot pot meat alone at RMB 30 billion. The same study estimates the value of market for hot pot condiments at RMB 49 billion. A Chinese netizen posted the following photo of the various products he had purchased for a hot pot meal at his home with a few friends.

As you can see, it includes drinks and a cake for dessert. The only fresh ingredient is a plate of vegetables at the top of the photo.

So, is this a good development, all that packed food, or is it against the trend towards healthier eating? As far as the meat is concerned, I know from personal experience that the appearance of frozen pre-sliced mutton and beef felt as a liberation from slicing it yourself. Apart from being sliced/chopped and packed, these products have not been heavily processed. Fact is that ‘hot pot materials’ have become a sub-market of their own in China. I will keep you abreast of further developments on this page

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success