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

Hot Pot has grown so important that this traditional Chinese way of eating had developed into a full grown market. A specialised trade fair has been launched for it: Shanghai International Hot Pot Industry Trade Fair.

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

Cosmetics food same source

The title of this post is based on an earlier post on the big overlap of food and medicine in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Foods and beverages with cosmetic properties have become so popular in China, that a phrase zhuang shi tong yuan ‘cosmetics food same source’ has been coined on the existing concept of yao shi tong yuan ‘medicine food same source’. It is becoming a lucrative market. It reached RMB 23.8 billion in 2022, and is expected to exceed RMB 25.57 billion in 2025, with a compound growth rate of 3.8%.

Many regular foods are regarded as good for your skin, hear, nails, etc., in China. Fruits and vegetables are considered to be beauty food due to their rich vitamin content. As a result, the online market for dried fruit preserves has experienced rapid growth in recent years. Among the most popular subcategories, dried mango stands out. Another popular product is canned yellow peach, which ranked first on Tmall in 2022. However, that was party due to the rumour that canned yellow peach could prevent COVID-19 infection.

This is by itself not a typically Chinese trend, but as soon as it landed in China, TCM became an influential factor. Red dates or goji berries nourish qi and blood, moisturise and the complexion. Mung beans and white fungus detoxify the intestines and have an anti-aging effect. Black sesame seeds keep your hair black. That wouldn’t work for me, but it would for most Chinese. These thousands of years old health preservation concepts are now being implemented by Chinese consumers in their daily diets. Many companies have started cashing in to this, adding TCM ingredients to foods and drinks. This post introduces a new products in this category recently launched in China that can be regarded a trend-setting product.

Yoghurt for your skin

Collagen is good for your skin; that is old news. However, instead of spending a lot of money on an expensive cream and investing considerable to put it on your face each and every morning, you can now start the day with a helping of collagen yoghurt YO Collagen Yogurt by Sanyuan (Beijing). Each helping contains 1250 mg of small-particle collagen imported from Germany. The two flavours, peach-lychee-jasmine and grape-pomegranate-rose, contain chewable pulp. The protein content reaches 4.5g per bag, which is 65% higher than the national yogurt standard. Erythritol is used as sweetener instead of sugar. You take your collagen with all the other nutrients of yoghurt and enjoy the tart fruity flavour at the same time. And you only need on hand, with the other free to do whatever you want to do.

Beauty drinks

In August 2021, Bright Dairy and Bloomage Biotech launched a range of jointly developed beauty drinks enriched with different cosmetic ingredients: collagen, hyaluronic acid, and cranberry powder. Hyaluronic acid became a genuine vogue in that year.

21Beauty has launched a high-fibre #drink that is said to improve one’s complexion in October 2021. The company was founded in April of that year as a specialist producer of fruit and vegetable fibre foods.

Unilever the first international investor

Unilever became a shareholder of Shandong Hebao Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., a producers of cosmetics, including a collagen cosmetic drink.

I will keep you informed on this page, by adding new cosmetic foods launched on in China.

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

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.

Bamboo – Chinese eat it too

You can find bamboo objects in European homes and occasionally life bamboo growing in European gardens. Clothes made of bamboo fibre are also appearing. When you ask Europeans if they would like to taste bamboo, they may be less eager. Chinese obviously do not eat full-grown bamboo. Only panda bears do that and even they do so with some diffulty. Chinese eat bamboo shoots, very young bamboo.

Dried bamboo shoots have a bright yellow colour and tender meat. They are rich in nutrients like protein, cellulose, and amino acids. They fit the requirements of the modern consumers: low fat, low sugar and high in dietary fibre. Bamboo shoots are in trace elements like calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, vitamins B1, B2, and C. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bamboo can increase appetite, prevent constipation, cool and detoxify. It is a pure natural health food that is popular among consumers.

China is one of the largest producers of bamboo in the world. There are 22 genera and more than 200 species distributed throughout the country. However, the main bamboo species for excellent bamboo shoots are the red shell bamboo from Xiacun Township, Yanling County, Hunan, the yellow bamboo from Guangxi Lei bamboo and early bamboo in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the Pearl River Basin, Lin’an, Fujian, Yichun City, Wanzai County, Yifeng County and other regions in Jiangxi Province, Moso bamboo, Moso bamboo and green bamboo in Taiwan and other places.


Data from the “Analysis Report on the Development Status and Future Prospects of China’s Bamboo Shoot Industry from 2021-2027” released by IRG shows that the production of bamboo shoots in China has been steadily increasing during the past few years. The following table shows the production and growth of the period 2018 – 2019.

YearVolume (mt)Growth (%)
Canned bamboo shoots

Top regions

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2019, the highest output of dried bamboo shoots was in Fujian: 214,917 mt; followed by Zhejiang with 191,223 mt of dried bamboo shoots; and Guangxi with 180,536 mt of dried bamboo shoots. Combined, these three regions were good for almost 57% of the total national production.

According to data from the Zhejiang Bureau of Statistics, the output of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province is relatively stable. In 2018, the production of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province was 197,434 mt, up 5.8%; in 2019, the production of dried bamboo shoots in Zhejiang Province was 191,223 mt, up 3.1%.

The Tianmu Mountain region in Lin’an, Zhejiang, is known as the southern bamboo town. The famous dried bamboo shoots of Tianmu are mainly made from fresh bamboo shoots of Dianthus. It was famous around the world as early as 400 years ago. There are five main types of dried bamboo shoots in Tianmu. The thicker and softer ones are called “fat buds”, the thin and long ones are called “bald buds”, and there are “Xiaoting”, “Straight Tip”, “Bakeout”, etc. “Fat buds” are suitable as an ingredient for roasting meat, “bald buds” and “Xiao Ting” can be used in soups, and “Bao Ting” are made from the tender tips of bamboo shoots, which regarded as the top grade in dried bamboo shoots.

Packed shredded bamboo shoots

Foreign trade

In 2019, the export volume of dried bamboo shoots and shreds from China was 1865.5 mt, and the import volume was 35.6 mt. From January to November 2020, the export volume of dried bamboo shoots in China was 1631.2 mt, and the import volume was 36 mt.

According to China Customs data, in 2019, the export value of dried bamboo shoots and shreds in China was USD 17.584 mln and the import value was USD 693,000. In 2020, the export value of dried bamboo shoots and silk was USD 21.696 mln and the import value was USD 729,000.

Value-added products

A number of companies have developed value added products other than the traditional shoots and shreds. A good example is Tiankang Green Bamboo Biological Products Co., Ltd. (Zhaoqing, Guangdong). Its main product is a beverage with bamboo shoot juice and also produces lyophilized bamboo juice powder and bamboo dietary fibre.

Some of Tiankang’s products

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.

Preserved fruit – possibly China’s the oldest candy

Before people had fridges to keep their food for a longer period, or longer in frozen condition, mankind has invented a number of processes to make fresh produce last a little longer. However, if such processes would affect the original flavour too much or make it visually unappetising, the product would be unacceptable. So, food preservation is tightly connected with maintaining the original organoleptic aspects of the original product.

Preserved candied fruits, have been a popular snack in China for ages, known as guofu or mijian. Preserving fruits started as a way to keep summer and autumn fruits into the winter. Originally, candied fruits were treats for the imperial courts. In ancient times, emperors wanted to enjoy fruit all year around, but transportation was too slow to deliver fresh fruit to the capital from the warmer southern regions. 

Several types of preserved fruits

The most telling story about this problem feature the most famous concubine in China’s history: Yang Yuhuan, the favourite concubine of emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (8th century). The emperor had lychees, that Yang loved so much, delivered to the palace using the imperial courier’s fast horses, whose riders would take shifts day and night in a Pony Express-like manner. This service used to be reserved to sending urgent messages. This angered the courtiers so much, that they persuaded the emperor to have Yang killed.

Concubine Yang with a lychee

Smart cooks came up with the idea of soaking fruit in honey to seal it from the air and prevent deterioration. When they consecutively tried to boil the fruit in honey, a new snack was created. As the imperial court in the last two dynasties, Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911), were located in Beijing, that city is still considered the best place for tasting a wide range of authentic and traditional preserved fruits.

The process

The main difference between preserved and dried fruit is the use of honey or sugar in the preserving process. Traditionally, preserved fruit are produced by simmering fresh fruit in honey to remove moisture. Sugar is often substituted for honey nowadays to cut production costs. Selecting the best fruit is crucial in making mijian and guofu. The fruit must be ripe but still dense enough to withstand long boiling. Different varieties have specific requirements. Apricots should be golden, with moderate hardness, while apples with low moisture content and loose flesh are best. Once fruit has been pitted and peeled, it is smoked in sulphur to prevent oxidation of the tannin. It is then boiled in a highly concentrated sugar syrup.

Not all candied or preserved fruit is sticky in texture. Though the words guofu and mijian are interchangeable, guofu is more commonly used to describe preserved fruit that is dried after boiling in sugar or honey, while mijian refers to the more juicy and glossy versions that aren’t dried after cooking. Some Chinese guofu have a thin granulated sugar coating, which is more common in southern provinces like Fujian and Guangdong.

Popular types

Yangmeigan, or candied Chinese bayberry, is made by boiling the fresh berries in sugar water, then baking the berries to remove moisture. A sugar coating is added for extra sweetness and texture. This snack is very popular, especially in Yangtze River Delta region.

Guofu and mijian are most commonly made with green plums, apricots and peaches. But the preservation process has also been extended to more unconventional ingredients, like winter gourd, ginger, water chestnuts, lotus roots and olives.

Tangjiangpian, or candied ginger, is a specialty in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. The recipe, which originated in the Ming Dynasty, is favoured for its sweet and spicy flavour as well as for the health benefits of ginger. For the process, fresh, tender ginger roots are rinsed, peeled and thinly sliced. Then they are tossed in granulated sugar and dried under a hot sun. The process is repeated several times until all the moisture from the ginger is gone.

The peelings of orange and grapefruit can also be made into candied preserves. The process requires separating the outer zest of the citrus from the bitter white pith. The peeling is then boiled in water and cut into thin slices, which are subsequently boiled in a syrup of equal parts water and sugar. When the peelings take on a transparent appearance, they are removed from the syrup and spread out on a flat surface to cool. Finally, they are rolled in granulated sugar. Tangerine peel is used to make sun-dried chenpi, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in cooking (try them when stewing beef!). In Guangdong, jiuzhi chenpi is a snack made by processing the dried tangerine peel with liquorice root and sugar.

Dried orange peel – chenpi

Various preserved plums, like huameiwumei and jiayingzi, and hawthorn berries are the most common varieties of more sour preserved fruit sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. The sourest of the huamei preserved plums is one that looks quite mummified, with white powder on a caramel-coloured surface. Made of green plums, it is infused with the flavour of liquorice, giving it a distinctive saltiness that is said to stimulate salivation.

Wumei, or black preserved plum, is less sour and a bit meatier. It is made from Chinese plums, or Prunus Mume. This variety is also an element of traditional Chinese medicine and a key ingredient in the popular summertime beverage of sour plum juice.

Dried mango; this was the most popular preserved fruit by far sold on the online platform Tmall in 2020.

Health food

A number of fruit popular for preservation is attributed medicinal activity in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Good examples are: date, tangerine peel, ginger and black plum (wumei). You can also make herbal tea from several types of preserved fruits, like tangerine peel (chenpi) tea. Preserved fruits can also be enriched with other medicinal ingredients like: dates with ajiao (a gel extracted from donkey skin), or hawthorn with probiotics.

Hawthorn with lactobacillus

Cooking ingredient

Guofu and mijian are often used in classic dishes such as babaofan, or eight-treasure rice, and zongzi with preserved honey dates as filling. Preserved fruits are also added to oatmeal to create a more interesting breakfast.


Modernisation: low sugar

Of course, anything dripping with sweetness comes under scrutiny in today’s health-conscious world. That’s also true of preserved fruit. In recent years, food scientists have developed production methods that use less sugar. One process uses low pressure injection of gel, e.g., algin. In this way you can use less sugar, while preserving the texture of the final product.

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.

Yoghurt: the centre in Chinese food innovation

Food and beverages form one of the most innovative industries worldwide. Consumers get easily bored with their daily bites and sips and feel a strong need for regular change of flavours, textures, colours, etc. The typical products with such regular changes are snacks or sodas, stuff that you eat or drink between meals, to kill part but not all of your hunger, or even purely for diversion.

When scanning the new launches in China of the past few months, another type of product clearly stands out, one that is usually regarded as a healthy food: yoghurt.

Dairy is regarded as the single most nutritious food group in China and therefore tops the current Chinese food pyramid. In particular, Chinese strongly believe that dairy products enhance the immune system, so the Covid-19 epidemic has triggered a tsunami of new dairy products during the latter half of 2020. As many Chinese still have a problem with the odour and flavour of regular milk, yoghurt is a more widely accepted dairy product among Chinese consumers. In this post, I want to introduce a number of the most noticeable newly launched yoghurts, each representing a subtype.

Yoghurt and tradition

The renewed interest in traditional culture in China is also reflected in the celebration of traditional holidays, like the Mid Autumn Festival. Although dairy is a mainly a foreign food group, several of the newly launched yoghurts in China are branded in connection with a traditional holiday. Yili has issued a limited edition of its Ambrosial yoghurt for the Mid Autumn Festival.

Beijing’s pastry maker Daoxiangcun, that does not a dairy company, has even launched a one-time Dragon Boat Festival yoghurt flavoured with mooncake, the traditional pastry eaten during that festival and of which Daoxiangcun is a main supplier.

Yoghurt and milk tea

Milk tea is a vogue that reached Mainland China from Taiwan and quickly became bigger than in its home market. Young Chinese are willing to line up for hours to get a cup of their favourite milk tea. Genki Forrest has cashed in that by launching a milk tea inspired yoghurt.

Black yoghurt

I posted an earlier introduction about various types of ‘black food’ in China. Black food is traditionally linked to health. Moreover, there is a small but stable group of young people interested in gothic music, including the black outfit that come with it. A number of black yoghurts have been launched in previous months. E.g., there is Yiming’s yoghurt coloured with inkfish ink and black sesame seeds.

Yili’s Ambrosial also has a range of black yoghurts with various funny flavours: chives, garlic, shrimp, rice vinegar, etc.

New raw materials

These are yoghurt not made from milk (or not only milk).

Tianyou has launched a Zero (zero sugar, zero additives) soybean-based yoghurt.

Beijing-based Marvelous Foods recently launched its flagship store on Tmall with its signature offering: Yeyo Coconut Yogurt with zero-added sugar, no sweeteners, or artificial flavours. The initial launch of the plant-based range includes a ‘pure’ sugar-free flavour, along with two yoghurt-granola cups with seasonal fruit and nut granola toppings and are priced at RMB 15 per 100 gr. Its latest product was developed after extensive formulation R&D by joining forces with leading ingredients company DSM.

High nutrition yoghurt

While yoghurt itself is already regarded a nutritious in China, some producers add extra nutrients. Yili has developed high protein yoghurt . . . 

. . . and one with several probiotics to enhance the functioning of the intestines.

Wahaha is selling a yoghurt drink with amino acids that promote a good night sleep.

For the opposite, to pick yourself up, you can use Mengniu’s yoghurt with arrowroot; also said to be good for curing hangovers.

Yoghurt and . . . noodles

China’s top dairy processor Yili has launched a combination pack of its Ambrosial yoghurt and Wuhan-style noodles (Cailinji brand) late 2020. It is a limited edition commerating the brave citizens of Wuhan who suffered most from the COVID-19 epidemic.

More have been launched and I expect even more will follow. I will regularly update this post with new products.

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.

Not From Concentrate – slowly but gradually coming to China

Fruit juice has been an emerging popular beverage category in China for some time now. Fruit has a healthy image, so fruit juice drinks are easy to market as good for you, at least better than sugary soda beverages. However, even up to the present day, most fruit juice drinks for sale in China have a 5% to 10% fruit juice content; the remainder being water and a mix of the usual ingredients.

Fruit juice drinks with a higher juice content are rare in China. It was therefore a surprise to note that Not From Concentrate (NFC) juice suddenly the appeared on the Chinese market a few years ago. Still, if fruit juice is healthy, NFC should be the healthiest of them all.

The founder of Lingdu Guofang, Sun Jun, who had started his career at Mengniu Dairy, and a manager of mineral water giant Nongfu Spring jointly announced China’s first NFC juice on Food & Beverage Innovation Forum (FBIF) 2017.

In 2018, the retail sales volume of fruit juice amounted to 14 billion litres. However, only 5% were 100% juice and only 1% of that volume was NFC. The NFC juice consumption per capita in China was only 16 ml. Although the market size at present is quite small, prospects for growth are high, as was indicated on FBIF 2020.

Consumer profile

As for now, most NFC juice consumers are females, adults from 23 to 40 years old, living in the first-tier cities, and parents. White collar workers, gym-patrons and people who care about body management will be the next potential consumer groups. Getting enough vitamins, health, and flavour are the top three reasons mentioned to purchase NFC juice.


There some obstacles for NFC suppliers to overcome. Two thirds of Chinese consumers do not know the difference between 100% juice and NFC. Another problem is that NFC juice can be easily replaced. A 2020 Healthy Drink Research showed that a considerable part of consumers did not choose NFC juice because the can buy fruits and eat those directly. Fruits are cheap in China.

Popular beverages like bubble tea also pose a threat. Such teas with fruit juice are also marketed as ‘healthy’ and can be purchased to go. Fresh fruits can be squeezed at home. NFC is only for sale in bottles, so consumer who want to have a fruity drink while shopping, will buy a bubble tea. In June 2020, the famous tea drink brand Hey Tea also launched bottled NFC juice products in its own bubble tea shops.

Where to go

Worldwide, most fruit juice products are still single-flavoured, dominated by orange. But in China, consumers are more open to mixed flavours, or a mixed vegetable and fruit juice. Exotic fruits can be another considered.

The promotion of NFC juice shall be first focused, highlighting “NFC” on labels. Comments like “additive-free,” place of origin, health benefits, etc., are also important in China. It also very important to connect products with consumption contexts. For example, NFC juice could be the best choice for mothers in the supermarket when the kids want to buy beverages.

It would better to position NFC juice together with other health products, rather than sharing a shelf if regular fruit juice and fruity beverages.

In spite of the challenges, I am sure that NFC will grow in China in the coming years. Covid-19 has increased the already existing trend towards more healthy eating and drinking among Chinese consumers.

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.