Unifood – university students as drivers of food innovation in China

In a few earlier blogs, I introduced novel foods designed by students for their graduation. One was dedicated to vinegar-based foods, another had a more general nature. The inventors were typically students of food science.

Chinese students have not only continued these innovative activities, but have combined it with their innate entrepreneurial instinct. A number of agricultural universities and colleges have developed novel foods and have started commercialising these themselves. An important driving force behind these commercial activities is the popularity of the TikTok (Douyin) platform, on which students can advertise their products through direct broadcasting.

In this post, I will introduce a number of novel foods developed and marketed by students of various Chinese universities. Their professors have also particpated in the development, but usually prefer to remain in the background, and allow the limelight for their students.

South China Agricultural University (Huanong)

According to the official introduction of South China Agricultural University, in the 1930s, the Agricultural College of Lingnan University, the predecessor of Huanong, had a dairy farm with the scale of one to two hundred cows. This laid the basis for their dairy specialisation. Later, the research field was focussed on the production and development of yogurt. In 1997, Huanong established the Dairy Factory of South China Agricultural University and officially started selling yogurt to the outside world.

Compared with yoghurt on the market, Huanong yoghurt is fresh and contains fewer additives. Its raw materials are fresh milk, bacteria and sugar. Huanong yoghurt’s sales slogan is: our yoghurt is like a meal cooked by our own family. It may not taste as attractive as restaurants, but we believe that simplicity can do the trick’.

Southwest University

Southwest Konjac is a product developed by Southwest University, founded in 2012. The story says that in 1979, Professor Liu Peiying of Southern Agricultural University discovered that Japan purchased large volumes of konjac from Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, and initiated research into konjac. The university registered its own konjac brand, and founded the KGM Functional Food R&D Centre to develop functional products, special medicinal foods, medicines, beauty products, etc., all with Konjac as raw material.

Yunnan Agricultural University

When talking about Yunnan, people usually think of fresh flower cake. In fact, the fresh flower jelly developed by Yunnan Agricultural University and the Yunnan Highland Agricultural Industry Research Institute is also very special. At present, the fresh flower jelly series includes four flavours: rose, jasmine, chrysanthemum and osmanthus. There are fresh flowers in each jelly.

Hunan Agricultural University

Fantianwa is a brand of spicy dough sticks, a traditional product of Hunan that has gain national popularity during the past couple of years, developed by Hunan Agricultural University. In addition to being the leading brand, these spicy strips are also unique in taste. Their sales slogan in: ‘it makes people feel like they can “go to heaven” after eating’. Fantianwa has also created a toplevel clean room, becoming the first spicy stick enterprise in Hunan with HACCP certification and ISO9001 quality management system certification.

Xinjiang Shihezi University

Shennei brand carrot juice is not only alive in the memory of Xinjiang children, but also makes some people who don’t like to eat carrots change their minds about this vegetable. In 1996, Shihezi University set up the Shennei Xinjiang Product Research and Development Centre, and carrot juice is one of its products adapted to local conditions. Shennei carrot juice is made from a local variey of carrot, which is produced in the north slope of Tianshan Mountain, and is freshly pressed by cell wall breaking technology.

There are several more of these university-developed novel foods. The above my personal pick, but I will be most happy to guide those who want to know more, like partenering with one of this high-quality institutions.

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.