From milk to candy and back to milk – co-branding Chinese style

I originally wanted to post this product on the Trends page of this blog, as a notable innovative product. However, thinking more about the history of how the White Rabbit brand has developed (also see my post on candy), I believe it deserves a separate mini-post on the main page.

Indigenous milk candy

White Rabbit Creamy Candy was originally manufactured by the ABC Candy Factory of Shanghai in 1943, when a merchant from ABC tried a milk candy from England and thought that the taste of the candy was not bad. After half a year of development, he then manufactured the factory’s own brand of milk candies. The main ingredient is not raw milk, but sweetened condensed milk, the oldest indigenous industrial dairy product in China. The oldest producers was Baihao, established in Zhejiang province in 1926. The first ABC milk candies were packaged using a red Mickey Mouse drawing on the label, and were named ABC Mickey Mouse Sweets. As their prices were lower than imported products, they became widely popular among the people.

In the 1950s, ABC became a state-owned enterprise. As Mickey Mouse was seen as a symbol for worshiping foreign countries, the packaging was redesigned to feature a White Rabbit and an artist’s paint palette with Chinese and English hand-lettering in a colour scheme of red, blue and black against a white background. The result was a distinctive candy label design that became instantly recognizable around the world. Initially, production of the candies was capped at 800 kg per day, and they were manually produced. In 1959, these candies were given as gifts for the tenth National Day of the China. In 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai used White Rabbit candies as a gift to American president Richard Nixon when the latter visited China. The White Rabbit brand was transferred to the Guanshengyuan Group in November 1997.

See my post on candy for more details about the product, including its formulation.

White Rabbit Ice cream

Although the White Rabbit brand already had some history, its popularity worldwide has grown with the economy of China. Demand is increasing, especially during the Chinese New Year period, when many families provide White Rabbit sweets among other candies for visitors. The product generated a turnover of RMB 320 mln in 2013. The candies are now exported to more than forty countries and territories, including the United States, Europe and Singapore. On December 2, 2017, Wong’s Ice Cream of Toronto, Canada unveiled the first ice cream flavour made from White Rabbit Candy.

This association with ice cream has made Guanshengyuan to launch an ‘ice cream flavoured’ version of its candies. See my post on candy for more details on the formulation.

Starbucks and White Rabbit – cross-cultural co-branding

Starbucks is known for its attempts to grow roots in local markets by adding its own versions of local delicacies, like selling moon cakes for the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival. The company also occasionally serves White Rabbit Candy Frappe. According to a blogger, the it is made with two simple ingredients from Starbucks: Syrup Creme Frap and Brown Brown Butter Shortbread Sauce. If this is correct, Starbucks is only using the brand name and a picture of the original candies. The product itself seems unrelated to White Rabbit candy.

White Rabbit cosmetics

The brand is so attractive that it has been licensed to a number of cosmetics products. The first is White Rabbit Lip Balm, produced by Maxam. It is a limited-edition product and sold out in seconds on the online retailer, Tmall. The product has ingredients including essences of sweet almonds and olive. Shen Qinfeng from Guanshengyuan, stated in an interview: “How to make our brand younger, as well as adding nostalgia and emotion, is something we have been exploring.”

White Rabbit’s popularity in Singapore has given birth to a range of cosmetics, including shower cream and body lotion. While you could say that lip balm is still related to food, as you will gradually swallow it, these products are exclusively for external use. However, the background picture does include ice cream, so there is at least a subtle allusion to food.

White Rabbit milk

The most recent development is that Shanghai-based Bright Dairy launched a White Rabbit flavoured milk. The package tells us that this milk is ‘milk candy-flavoured’. It is like stating that a tangerine tastes like tangerine candy. White Rabbit Milk is the product of Chinese culture. It is the result of a strategic alliance of two major Shanghai-based companies, reflecting the strong regional chauvinism in Chinese culture (also see my post on the various food capitals in China). I have noted in several posts in this blog that the creamy flavour of milk is still not generally accepted in China. Shanghai could be the region in China with the highest acceptance of milk. Shanghai people often like to brag about their love for milk and dairy products. This is why China’s first milk candy was developed in that city in the first place. Now the success of the White Rabbit brand is used to create synergy with another old Shanghai dairy brand. It is not sure yet, whether White Rabbit Milk will be as successful as White Rabbit Candy or Bright Milk, but I will keep you abreast on this blog.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Goji berries – China’s red gold

Chinese superfruit

Following my post on shaji, I am writing one on another superfruit: goji berries. Goji berries are native to Asia, though some species of the plant can be found growing in North America. Goji berries belong to the nightshade family, which means that they are related to potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. They have a long history of use in China. According to an early legend regarding the goji berry and its value, a doctor more than 2000 years ago visited a village that consisted mostly of centenarians. After observing them for a time, the doctor noticed that the residents who lived the longest also had homes closest to the wells were goji berry trees grew. As the fruits ripened, they would fall off into the water and their nutrients would be infused into it. Villagers who lived near the wells would drink the water and benefit from its nutrients. There are multiple variations of this legend. Documentation of the benefits of goji berries begins with a book written the mythical doctor Shen Nong in the year 250 BC, the oldest book on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Another important Chinese book written by Li Shizhen in the 16th century also includes important information on the subject of the goji berry.

Nutrition

Goji berries are known primarily for their nutritional value and health benefits. Some of the factors that make them famous for boosting health are:

  • Amino acids: goji berries provide 8 essential amino acids that your body cannot synthesize.
  • Zeaxanthin: goji contain a high concentration of an antioxidant called zeaxanthin, good for preventing certain eye diseases. According to various studies, a diet that contains goji berries can increase a person’s zeaxanthin levels by as much as 26%.
  • Vitamins: goji berries can provide you almost twice the vitamin A that you need in a day. It also has about a third of the daily recommended vitamin C.
  • Minerals: goji berries are rich in some important minerals including iron and potassium.

Geographic spread

Goji berries grow in a large area northwest China, but Ningxia is by far the largest producer. The following table shows the regional breakdown on the output of 2017 (dried berries).

Region output (mt)
Ningxia 108,500
Gansu 105,800
Qinghai 95,000
Xinjiang 66,600
Others 34,700

Steady growth

As goji berries have been such a valuable earner of hard currency, the Chinese goji production has grown steadily during the past years, as is shown in the following table.

Year output (mt)
2018 451,000
2017 410,600
2016 360,900
2015 293,200
2014 229,600

Export

Although the demand on the world market is huge, the domestic demand is also substantial. After all, goji berries are a TCM, so have been used for ages. In fact, Western consumers got to know goji from China, like ginseng. The following table shows the export volumes of the same years as the production figures above.

Year export (mt)
2018 12,000
2017 12,600
2016 12,700
2015 9,800
2014 12,300

Goji as (health) food ingredient

Goji berries are no longer exclusively used in Chinese medicine. They have become an ingredient in a growing range of health foods and beverage. I will list a few in this section to give an impression of how goji is used by Chinese food technologists.

Herbal tea

This herbal tea by Laojin Mofang consists of dried longan slices, dates and goji berries. It is a refreshing beverage that lasts a long time, as you can add boiling water a number of times.

Halal goji drink

Qiye Qing turns goji berries into a cloudy orange-colored bottled beverage. The ad uses the alternative name for goji: wolfberries. The drink is certified halal. The manager, Mr. He Jun, believes this move is a great opportunity to cash in on the Middle Eastern and Central Asian markets. The picture shows an ad of this beverage. See my post on Halal food for more details.

Goji as snack

With the increased interested in healthier food, dried goji berries have become an interesting snack. Check out this small helping of goji by Qilixiang.

I may add more products in the future.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

You are not eating pastry, but culture

I originally intended to use this picture for the Trends page on this blog. However, this advertisement is so fascinating, that I have decided to devote an entire mini-post to it.

What you see is a picture of purple sweet potato and yam pastry (the top line of the picture). Apart from the sweet potato and yam, other ingredients are milk, red sugar and honey and gelatin; the latter to get a pudding-like texture for the yam part.

More interesting, though, is the second line:

It is called: Chinese tiramisu

The makers of this picture want to stress that this dessert is so good, that it can match the most world-famous desserts. They chose for tiramisu. This makes sense. The Chinese and Italian cuisines are both known all around the globe. So, when you want to tell people that your Chinese dessert is of world standard, you find something Italian and the most popular dessert there is tiramisu.

However, the climax is in the bottom line.

You are not eating pastry, but culture

Purple sweet potato and yam pastry as a symbol of Chinese culture. Interestingly, this symbol is not really a traditional food, but a western-style formulation using Chinese ingredients.

Note that here ‘culture’ (wenhua) also refers to high-class, luxury, etc. It is as if the creators of this picture want to say: ‘we can make food as sophisticated as you can, even with our own ingredients.

This picture combines the two main ingredients of my blog: ‘chinese food ingredients’ and ‘food and culture’.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Water chestnut: another very Chinese ingredient

In this blog, I regularly introduce typically Chinese food ingredients that are less known or used differently, in Western cuisine. In this post, I am introducing the water chestnut.

Water chestnuts are named for its chestnut-like shape like chestnut. However, not only the shape, but also the taste and functions are similar to tree chestnut. The water chestnut’s skin is purple to black, the flesh is white, crisp, sweet and juicy. Even eaten raw, it makes a delicious treat. People in China’s North sometimes refer to it as ‘southern ginseng’. Water chestnut can be regarded as both fruit and vegetable. It is a popular seasonal product. The following pictures show them as you buy them and peeled.

    

Medicinal properties

The water chestnut is attributed medicinal qualities in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is rich in protein, dietary fibre, carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and trace elements such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, which can prevent infectious diseases and improve the quality of the body.

Phosphorus content in water chestnuts is the highest in all stem vegetables. Phosphorus can not only promote physical development, but also make sugar, fat and protein metabolise normally and maintain a proper acid-base balance.

Water chestnuts contain puchiin, which is an antimicrobial substance. It can effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, and can also play a role in lowering blood pressure.

Water chestnuts belong to the cold raw foods. They can clear away heat and remove fire, increase appetite and stimulate body fluid. They can dispel body discomfort and supplement nutrition. They moisten lungs, resolve phlegm and promote body fluid production. The starch and crude protein can promote the peristalsis of the large intestine, and the crude fat can moisten the intestine and relieve constipation. They are most suitable for fever patients. They cool blood and detoxify, stimulate diuresis and defecation.

Water chestnut products

In this section, I am introducing a number of classic and novel products made from water chestnuts.

Water chestnut starch

Water chestnut starch is produced by crushing, separation, dehydration and drying. Water chestnut starch is white and uniform, and can be made into other water chestnut products, such as water chestnut paste, water chestnut cake and water chestnut biscuits.

Instant water chestnut paste

Instant water chestnut paste is produced with water chestnut powder, water chestnut skin extract and other additives. The water chestnut skin extract is rich in dietary fibre and flavonoids, it promotes gastrointestinal peristalsis and improves blood circulation.

water chestnut cake

Water chestnut cake is favourite part of the famous Cantonese Dim Sum. It is rich in starch, protein and other nutrients, but it spoils easily, so it must be sterilised. It is advisable to use high temperature and short time sterilisation.

Water chestnut biscuits

A typical formulation of water chestnut biscuit is: 80 parts of wheat flour, 20 parts of water chestnut powder, 12.5 parts of sugar, 8 parts of soybean oil, 1.2 parts of yeast, 1.5 parts of baking soda and 0.5 parts of salt.

Canned water chestnut

Canned water chestnut has a crisp and refreshing texture, which is very popular with the public. Yellow browning occurs easily, when water chestnuts are exposed to air after peeling, so the need to be pre-cooked. Canned water chestnuts are sterilised at high temperature and short time.

Water chestnut beverage

Water chestnut contains a lot of water. It is easy to extract juice. Its juice is sweet and tasty. It is an ideal raw material for beverage.

Fruit vinegar beverage

Researchers have applied response surface methodology has to optimise the fermentation conditions of water chestnuts. The initial alcohol concentration was 7.6%, the inoculation quantity of acetic acid bacteria was 10.9%, the suitable growth temperature of acetic acid bacteria was 32 C, and the acidity was above 0.045 g/ml.

Alcoholic beverages

During experimental production of water chestnut wine, water chestnut juice was prepared by peeling water chestnut and inoculating 2.0% – 3.0% yeast culture medium after adjusting sugar content and acidity. After fermentation at 25 C for 2 days, an 4.2% alcohol clear and tasty water chestnut wine could be produced.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

China’s top private food & beverage companies of 2019

The list of the 2019 China Top 500 Private Enterprises has been published and I have extracted those whose core business is in the food and beverage industry. You can compare the changes with the same list of 2014.

Rank Company Core product Region
40 Yili dairy Inner Mongolia
45 Tongwei meat Sichuan
70 Daohuaxiang liquor Hubei
79 Shuanghui meat Henan
89 Herun cereal processing Zhejiang
93 Xiwang maize processing Shandong
106 Bohai soy processing Shandong
133 Weiwei soybean milk Jiangsu
140 Jinluo meat Shandong
144 Wellhope meat Liaoning
155 Wudeli flour Jiangsu
173 Xiangchi soy starch Shandong
214 Huaze liquor Hunan
248 Nongfu Spring mineral water Zhejiang
250 Dali bakery Fujian
282 Liyuan cooking oil Guangxi
312 Xulong fish Zhejiang
321 Haitian seasoning Guangdong
336 Zhucheng Waimao meat starch Shandong
353 Hengxing seafood Guangdong
365 Longda meat Shandong
384 Fulaichun beverages Shandong
399 Jinmailang instant noodles Hebei
404 Sanxing cooking oil Shandong
424 Yihai Taizhou soy processing Jiangsu
446 Jinpai liquor Hubei
453 Feihe dairy Liaoning
461 Gaojin meat Sichuan
469 Junlebao dairy Hebei
473 Jiannanchun liquor Sichuan
486 Huatai leisure food Anhui
489 Tieqi Lishi poultry Sichuan

Some of these companies have been mentioned in various posts, indicated by the links. Regular readers will, on the other hand, miss more than a few of the big names. However, note that these are privately operated enterprises; not state owned. However, this list does reflect an intriguing event: of the two dairy giants from Inner Mongolia, Yili and Mengniu, Yili started out as a state owned enterprise that was privatised through a management buy-out, while Mengniu, once China’s most successful private enterprise, became a wholly owned subsidiary of state owned COFCO.

Regional perspective

When we look at the regions, Shandong stands out as the number one with 8 companies. This makes sense, as that is China’s top food province and the home of Yantai, China’s unofficial food industry capital. Sichuan is runner up with 4, which indicates that these companies are quite evenly distributed over the country. A region that strikes me as disappointing is Guangdong. This province is known as China’s most entrepreneurial region, but this apparently does no lead to larger private enterprises. The Cantonese prefer to keep things small, so easier to manage.

Product perspective

A sorting according to core business shows that meat is the top industry with 7 companies, followed by soybean processing with 6 and cereal processing with 6. In this respect, the list is more concentrated than on the regional aspect. Most of the producs fall in the category processed primary produce. Apparently, more sophisticated food processes are less suitable for private investment in China.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Goody Boxes – fancier food for traditional festivals

Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival) is a harvest festival, celebrated in China and other East Asian countries. Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important festival in China after Chinese New Year. To the Chinese, the festival means family reunion and harmony. It is celebrated when the moon is full, and Chinese people believe a full moon is a symbol of reunion, harmony, and happiness. It’s always in September or October, on month 8 day 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar. In 2019, it will fall on September 13.

I have introduced that festival in my post on moon cakes, the typical food eaten on that festival. I have tried to keep you abreast with the latest trends on that post. I will continue to do so, but I recently received a note from a Chinese friend who had been given a Mid Autumn Gift Box, containing exquisite moon cakes, but also a few other luxury versions of Chinese local delicacies, not necessarily consumed during the Mid Autumn Festival.

Trends

This box represents a number of current trends and describing the contents of this box therefore gives a good insight in those trends; so good, that I prefer to do so in a post, rather than add it to the Trends page of my blog. The two trends are:

  • Goody boxes; goody boxes containing samples of part or all of the product range of a manufacturer has become a vogue in China this year. One of earliest of such presentations was a box of single portions of nuts and seeds by Three Squirrels. Such boxes suit Chinese communitarian culture: you can share the box with your family, colleagues or friends.
  • Local specialties; regional governments have become more aware of the value of local delicacies and have started actively developing their production to comply with the expectations of the modern Chinese consumer. Look, e.g., to my post on Jinhua Ham for a successful example. You can consult my post on local cuisines to find the locations mentioned here.

The box

So, now have a look at the overview picture, showing the fancy top of the box and its contents.

It includes a 3, because the manufacturer is supplying three grades. I am describing the top grade in this post. This is what was in the box my friend was presented.

Honey glazed walnut kernels from a mountainous region of Yunnan province

Dried apricots from Xinjiang in China’s far West.

Red can sugar candy from Lincang, Yunnan; it makes a sweet drink by solving it in hot water.

Spicy dried beef from Hunan province.

And, last but not least, fancy mooncakes.

  • Two milk tea moon cakes;
  • Two macha cassia moon cakes;
  • Two red tea moon cakes.

Chinese have been eating walnuts, dried apricots or beef jerky as a snack for ages, but in this day and age, you need to get your walnuts from the high mountains of Yunnan or from an outpost of the ancient Silk Road to arouse the interest of present-day Chinese consumers. And, you have to wrap everything in packs and boxes matching the high quality of the foods. It makes you wonder what the next step will be.

More festivals following

The trend is not restricted to the Mid Autumn Festival. Towards the end of 2019, China’s top snack maker and seller Three Squirrels launched the following good back containing a rich sampler of their nuts.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Eating grass – Chinese slowly discovering salads as meals

Many Chinese still describe eating mixed chopped raw vegetables as ‘eating grass’

Although vegetables have always been a major ingredient of the Chinese diet, they have never liked eating them raw, unlike their neighbours in Korea or Japan. Chinese are traditionally suspicious towards any raw food, meat, fish, or vegetable, only fruits are eaten raw. Chinese starters do include raw or semi-raw vegetables, but with an emphasis on the latter and always well-seasoned, to mask the earthy taste of raw vegetables.

One of the eating habits Westerners brought to China when they started living there was eating mixed chopped raw vegetables as meals. Chinese observing this described those Westerners as ‘eating grass (chi cao)’. This expression is still very common. Whenever my wife and I spend some time in Beijing, we meet a befriended couple in an Italian chain restaurant in a shopping mall near their home, where we have some wine and order one dish after another, slowly, often extending our stay to several hours. We always start with a few plates of various salads, which our friend describes as ‘chatting over a glass of wine, while eating some grass’. This is not a derogatory term. We all enjoy the mixes of fresh vegetables with various toppings: tuna meat, chunks of fish, etc. It is filling while not fattening.

There, salads are still part of a larger meal that also includes other types of food. Actually, ordering a salad as a complete meal is something that has only recently entered the Chinese food scene. However, it is definitely gaining ground. There are already a number of dedicated salad bars active in China.

The leading chain is Wagas. According to the introduction of its website, A young Dane named John F. Christensen had once trouble finding a good sandwich in Shanghai. And so, he opened a café – Wagas. Founded in 1999, Wagas is a chain of café-like restaurants serving – sandwiches, pasta, salads, cake, fresh juice and coffee. I first experience with Wagas was when a Shanghai friend and I were invited by a local business man to discuss a proposal. Interestingly, my friend knew the place and hated it so much that she refused to order anything but a coffee. I ordered a salad consisting of various finely chopped vegetables mixed with other ingredients including quinoa. It was topped with a few slices of good quality beef, hence its name: beef salad. I enjoyed it, washing it down with a healthy smoothie.

The second chain is Element Fresh, a rather clumsy translation of the Chinese name Xinyuansu. Its ‘signature salads’ look quite similar to those of Wagas. The ingredients are chopped less finely and I seem to miss a few of the finer ingredients like quinoa. For the remainder Element Fresh is good copy of Wagas.

Max & Salad is not even a clumsy translation of the Chinese name: Dakaishajie, literally: ‘widely open the salad world’. This chain again offers less refined versions of what you can order at Wagas. I haven’t discovered an English version of their web site, so apparently, they are concentrating on domestic consumers.

Miyoushala, what literally means ‘rice has salad’, is a transliteration of Meal Salad. The salads offered a getting courses, as we are descending on the ranking. However, Meal Salad salads are served with one or two slices of bread. That does not only address the expectations of Western patrons, but also appeals to the Chinese stomach’s need for a bit of staple food.

So Sala sounds frivolous, but is a rendering of shousala, which means: ‘lean salad’. The name says it all. Moreover, this chain positions itself as organic. The salads are, however, again more coarsely chopped than the one that I savoured at Wagas. Also note the avocado. Avocados are getting quite popular in China as a healthy food ingredient.

Sexy Salad is a direct translation of haose shala (this actually means ‘lecherous salad’, so the English translation is rather euphoric). However, haose literally means ‘to love colours’, which here also refers to the various colours of the ingredients. The salads are more of the same, but this company is very much focused on online sales.

These are the salad bars that are operating and seemingly viable at the time of writing this post. A recent market survey has counted the number of outlets in a few important cities.

 

City Wagas EF M&S SoS SS
Shanghai 33 16 12 6
Beijing 9 10
Shenzhen 3 2 2
Guangzhou 1 2 2 5
Hangzhou 3 2 2
Nanjing 2 2 3
Wuxi 1 4 1
Wuhan 1 1 1 1
Chengdu 2 1 1

 

Beijing is the only northern city included in this study. Guangzhou and Shenzhen are both located in the Pearl River Delta. Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Wuxi represent the Yangtze Delft. Wuhan and Chengdu are provincial capitals in central and southwest China respectively. Please, consult my post on China’s Major Food Regionsfor those locations.

The concept of salad as a meal is there to stay in China, but the market is highly volatile and we can expect to see a number of chains to come and disappear again. Anyway, I will regularly refresh the information on this post.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.