The Chinese sense of strawberries – candy among fruits

On this Valentine Day, it is appropriate to post something about what probably is one of the most romantic fruits: the strawberry. It’s hard to imagine why the apple is the “forbidden fruit” of lore, when the voluptuous and fragile strawberry is so much more tempting. Strawberries are temptingly red and sweet. The are an all time favourite flavour for ice cream, candy, cake, pie and other sweet treats.

According to analysts’ estimates, China has produced more than 4 mln mt of fresh strawberries in 2017. Moreover, higher production of fresh strawberries will back further development of the strawberry processing sector in the country. It is estimated that China’s frozen strawberry production will increase by 15% year-on-year to 150,000 mt.

The 7th International Strawberry Symposium was held in Beijing in 2012. The following video gives an impression.

As regards exports, China’s fresh strawberry exports are insignificant due to high shipping costs. The following table shows the Chinese exports of frozen strawberries during the past few years

Year exports (mt)
2014 73,854
2013 97,254
2012 135,560
2011 129,613
2010 112,390

These figures show a high fluctuation, as can be expected of a product relying on parameters that are hard to predict (market, climate, policies, etc.).

The same figures for imported frozen strawberries seem less volatile.

Year imports (mt)
2014 7,131
2013 8,076
2012 7,429
2011 5,511
2010 8,276

There seems to be no clear proportion between imports and exports.

The following video is less slick than the one shown above, but gives a direct insight in a Chinese diced strawberry plant.

Strawberry as ingredient

Strawberries are rarely used by the food and beverage industry as whole fruits. They are usually processed into powder, jam, pulp, etc. While such products are mainly supplied to industrial clients, Youlian Food (Longhai, Fujian) also markets its freeze dried strawberry powder in 50 gr packages to consumers that like to bake strawberry flavoured cakes.

Youlian

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) trade fair, March 23 – 25, 2016, included 6 exhibitors with strawberry-derived ingredients.

Ingredient number
Juice 3
Powder 2
Frozen 1

I have shown an example of a strawberry flavoured milk beverage in an earlier post. In this post, I will list a few other examples of strawberry flavoured foods and drinks. Also see the vinegar strawberries in my post on vinegar-based foods and beverages.

 

Meijing brand Strawberry sugar free candy

CandyTuoyuan

Meijing Food Co., Ltd., Shanghai

Ingredients:

strawberry powder, additives (liquid maltitol, citric acid, food flavour, acesulfame-K, ponceau 4R colour).

Although strawberry powder is used, both colour and flavour require enhancement with additives.

 

Laobute Strawberry Flaky Pastry

Laobute

Quanjia Food Co., Ltd., Beijing

Ingredients:

Crust: wheat flour, butter, food additives(maltitol, xylitol(2%)), eggs, skimmed milk powder.

Filling: wax gourd, additives (maltitol), strawberry pulp, veg oil, water.

The interesting aspect of this recipe is that wax gourd (donggua) is used to create a fruity mouth feel, which is apparently not accomplished by the strawberry pulp by itself.

 

Mengniu Strawberry Milk

MengniuStrMilk

Mengniu Dairy, Huhhot, Inner Mongolia

Ingredients:

water, fresh milk, coconut milk, crystal sugar, HFCS, strawberry cubes, food additives (CMC, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium citrate, aspartame, sodium cyclamate), food flavour

This is a good example of a Chinese formulated dairy drink in which milk is but one of the many ingredients. The brand name Zhen Guoli translates as ‘Real Strawberry Cubes’. That may be true, but it is a far cry from real milk.

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.

 

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Yoghurt in China – innovative but old is still hip

Yoghurt is the most widely acceptable dairy product among Chinese consumers.

Yoghurt has always been one of the more popular dairy products in China. The value of the Chinese yoghurt market for 2017 is estimated at RMB 89 bln. An important reason is that it is easier to digest by people with lactose intolerance. Yoghurt is also less ‘creamy’ in taste that liquid milk, and lacks the alien smell of most Western cheeses.

The Chinese yoghurt market is dominated by the two Inner Mongolian giants Yili and Mengniu and their Beijing cousin Sanyuan and Shanghai-based Bright as the Benjamin. The following table shows the yoghurt market shares of the major companies in January 2018.

Company Share (%)
Mengniu 28
Yili 27
Sanyuan 21
Bright 15
Tianrun 3
Junlebao 3
Yiguo Fresh 1
Weiquan 1
Others 1

Old yoghurt newly formulated

However, even though a large variety of yoghurts is available in the local supermarkets, Chinese consumers have started to grow bored with the relatively sweet and rather liquid products.

To counter the demand for a new type of yoghurt, a number of Chinese dairy companies started launching more viscous products a year and a half ago, resembling products like Greek yoghurt or quark. In fact, Yili (Inner Mongolia) has launched a Greek yoghurt early 2016 (see photo). They are market as ‘old yoghurt’, trying to create a ‘traditional’ image; yoghurt as it originally used to be.

YIliGreek

 

Huishan Dairy (Liaoning) has launched a type of Russian yoghurt early 2017, branded Wolingka.

After so many food safety incidents, an investigative journalist of the Beijing Evening News purchased old and regular yoghurt of three leading brands, to compare the ingredients used in each product, as listed on the packaging. He has furthermore interviewed a number of experts in this field.

The results allow us to have a look into the kitchen of the present day top producers in this industry in China, and one with a rare degree of detailedness. We will start with offering a translation of the information of the 8 products (4 brands of Old Yoghurt and 4 types of normal yoghurt of the same brands). For each product, the following information will be provided: brand and product name, ingredients, and price. I will then summarise the judgments of the journalist and the experts and end with some comments from my side.

 

Junlebao

Traditional Old yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, whey protein powder, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus additives (HPDSP, gelatin, pectin, monoglyceride, aspartame, acesulfame-k) RMB 2.48/139 gr = RMB 0.018/gr
Yoghurt Raw milk, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, additives (HPDSP, gelatin, pectin, aspartame, acesulfame-k) RMB 10.50/800 gr = RMB 0.013/gr

 

Bright

1911 100 years Old Yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, whey protein powder, streptococcus thermophilus, additives (HPDSP, gelatin, pectin, agar, food flavors) RMB 4.90/160 gr = RMB 0.031/gr
Yoghurt (sugar free) Raw milk, whey protein powder, streptococcus thermophilus, additives (HPDSP, gelatin, pectin, agar, food flavors) RMB 8.80/800 gr = RMB 0.011/gr

 

Mengniu

Inner Mongolian Old Yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, whey protein powder, thin cream, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, additives (gelatin, agar) RMB 3.80/160 gr = RMB 0.024/gr)
Yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus, additives (HPDSP, agar, aspartame, acesulfame-k) RMB 8.00/800 gr = RMB 0.01/gr

 

 

Yili

Old yoghurt Fresh milk, sugar, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, additives (gelatin, diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono(di)glycerides, HPDSP, pectin, acfesulfame-k, aspartame) RMB 3.95/15o gr = RMB 0.026/gr
Probiotic plain yoghurt Fresh milk, sugar, whey protein powder, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, bifidus, lactobacillus acidophilus, additives (HPDSP, pectin, gelatin) RMB 10.90/800 gr = RMB 0.014/gr

 

Sanyuan

Old Beijing plain yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, additives (gelatin, diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono(di)glycerides, pectin, xanthan) RMB 3.80/180 gr = RMB 0.021/gr
Plain yoghurt Raw milk, sugar, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus, additives (gelatin) RMB 9.50/800 gr = RMB 0.012/gr

 

The journalist’s findings

Retailers generally like the Old Yoghurt, which they describe as ‘selling itself without any marketing effort’. Most consumers interviewed while buying it state that Old Yoghurt has an ‘original’ taste and ‘reminds one of the past’.

The price difference is significant. It is smallest for Junlebao, but for the other brands, the Old Yoghurt is on the average twice as expensive per gram as the regular variety.

However, these differences in price are not reflected in the lists of ingredients. Actually, these are remarkably similar for the Old and regular varieties. Moreover, the differences between the various brands are also very small. Even more peculiar is that an ingredient that is typical for Old Yoghurt in one brand is typical for the regular variety for competitive brand.

Apparently the only real difference between these two types of yoghurt is that dosage rates of thickeners, giving Old Yoghurt the thick mouth feel that traditional yoghurt used to have.

The experts’ opinion

The journalist has interviewed a number of dairy scientists on this topic. All agree that Old Yoghurt is a ‘concept’ rather than a real product. Real traditional yoghurt was a solidified milk, produced by fermenting raw milk with certain bacterial cultures in stone jars. There is nothing mysterious about it.

All brands of Old Yoghurt described by the journalist contain gelatin; and so do even some of the regular yoghurts. The thicker mouth feel is thus emulated by means of additives. The current Old Yoghurts are certainly not healthier than the average yoghurts.

My comments

This is a fascinating discussion. Actually, in European regular media we rarely find such detailed reporting on the use of food ingredients to ‘construct’ images of food products. Evidently, the food safety incidents that have taken place in China during the past couple of years have sensitised the awareness of Chinese consumers to an extent that consumer associations in Western countries can only dream of.

The issue revealed here by a Chinese journalist is by no means a typically Chinese phenomenon. One can buy semi-finished muffins and other types of cake in Europe, than can be baked at home to enable consumers to serve hot freshly baked muffins to their guests. TV commercials advertise these products showing people in the street smelling that (grand-)mother is baking cake. We are not aware of protests by consumers or consumer associations about such commercials. What European consumers seem to miss is how it is possible to smell a cake being baked from such a large distance.

Our ‘(grand-)mother’s apple pie’ is also emulated with premixes containing artificial flavours. These are further combined with emulsifiers and other additives, to ensure that even the most inexperienced person can bake such a pie or muffin. These additives are all approved for use in food, but so are the ingredients of Old Yoghurt in China. The Chinese journalist is not exposing excessive use of ingredients or the use of illegal additives. He is simply pointing out that consumers need to be aware of the fact that current Old Yoghurt is not related to the traditional thick yoghurt that Europeans use to eat when they were young. In this respect, Chinese consumers and media seem to be a step ahead of their European counterparts.

A few days after this publication on Old Yoghurt, another article appeared interviewing two more dairy experts. Their judgment was significantly milder. Old Yoghurt was first launched by a relatively small company in Qinghai, a region where people are traditional consumers of dairy products. Once that product became a success, it was imitated by dairy companies all over China. However, these companies lacked the skills to produce a thick type of yoghurt in the traditional way. The move to thickeners is then easily made.

The experts further point out that gelatin, starch and most other thickeners are natural products that are used in a large number of foods, and even in the kitchens of many consumers. Their use as food ingredients has been approved and there even is no maximum dosage rate for this kind of ingredients. The dairy experts do point out that there are better ways of producing a thicker kind of yoghurt, like lowering the water content of the milk. This requires more technical skills than adding thickeners. The current problems of Old Yoghurt in China are therefore directly related to the large number of relatively small companies, lacking skilled staff.

Recent developments

The most recent development is that the more and more producers are replacing the term ‘old yoghurt’ with other fancy names. Yili has launched a ‘Pureday Clotted Yoghurt’ and Junlebao a ‘Laojuezhuang European Sour Cheese’ (laojuezhuan literally means ‘cheese estate’. The names and design of the packaging shows that the basic proposition, that these are traditional European products, is now emphasised even more than before.

PuredayLaojuezhuang

The formulations have not changed dramatically:

Yili’s ‘Pureday Clotted Yoghurt’ Sugar, whey protein, fresh milk, butter oil, egg yolk powder, additives (gelatin, DATEM, HPDSP, pectin), flavours, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus RMB 5.50/138 gr = RMB 0.039/gr
Junlebao’s ‘Laojuezhuang European Sour Cheese’ Sugar, whey protein, fresh milk, condensed milk, additives(gelatin, DATEM, HPDSP, pectin, xanthan), lactic acid culture RMB 4.70/139 gr = RMB 0.034/gr

Organic yoghurt

Organic yogurts are proving popular for health-conscious office workers and young parents. Discerning shoppers seem willing to pay that little bit more for the right products as supermarkets start stocking an array of upmarket brands. Classy Kiss, a yogurt rolled out from Green’s Bioengineering (Shenzhen) Co Ltd, posted significant sales growth in third and fourth-tier markets. It recently launched an organic brand, which sells at around RMB 14, one of the most expensive products from its dairy range. Earlier, it also launched a yogurt designed to help improve the digestive system after a meal. The company hopes it will be able to cash in on the growing demand for healthy products. Sales of functional and fortified yogurts in China are expected to rise 23% to RMB 43 bln in 2017 compared to 2016. By 2022, sales are expected to surge 56% to RMB 75 bln.

Drinkable yoghurt for the young

Younger Chinese consumers have taken a fancy to creamy, sweet, flavored yogurt and yogurt-based drinks. Category sales have surged about 20% annually since 2014 to reach RMB 122 bln in 2017. Chinese consumers perceive yoghurt as “nutritious”, “helps to boost immunity”, “easy to digest” and “suitable for children and the old”. Yogurt has become a leading product in the domestic dairy market. But compared to other countries, yogurt consumption in China is relatively low at 3.43 kg per person per year (Japan leads with 9.66 kg and the figure for the United States is 4.92 kg). The recent uptrend in yogurt sales in China has positive implications for the larger dairy market. Overall dairy sales in China are expected to exceed RMB 480 bln by 2022 on a compound annual growth rate or CAGR of 6.6%.

Le Pur yoghurt

A noteworthy new arrival on in China’s domestic yoghurt industry is Le Pur. The name embodies the company’s simple and down-to-earth ambition of providing pure and delicious, quality yoghurt. With its dairy imported from countries such as the UK and New Zealand, and other ingredients, such as freshly-picked blueberries sourced from Shandong Province, hazelnut jam from Germany and vanilla from Madagascar, Le Pur aims to provide only “genuine ingredients.” Le Pur’s founder and CEO Denny Liu, a graduate of the Wharton School and a former employee of the Blackstone Group. Liu was also a special adviser to world leading industrial companies like PepsiCo. In late 2014, Liu gave up his career and started to make dairy from scratch. Within a year, he started Le Pur and gained over 40,000 fans on Le Pur’s official Sina Weibo and WeChat public accounts. So far, the number of fans has grown to around 320,000. Just a few months after launching Le Pur, Liu branched out into online to offline operations, and the company’s daily sales volume grew to around 1,000 bottles, according to cyzone.cn, a news platform for start-up businesses in China, on May 10, 2015. One of Le Pur’s marketing strategies is its down-to-earth interaction with consumers. In their concept store in Sanlitun, they showcase the yoghurt’s production line in a 30-square-meter room. The store has never lacked visitors. Le Pur also involves its customers in the choice of flavour and package design.

Salty yoghurt

Terun Dairy (Xinjiang) surprised the market by launching a new type of salty yoghurt late 2018. This flavour fits in with the worldwide vogue for salty sweets, like salty caramel or salty chocolate.

Greek yoghurt

Yili Dairy and the Greek Academy of Agricultural Science founded Ambrosial yoghurt. The sales of this company increased with 106.7% in 2016 compared to 2015. The reason for this sustainable amount is due to the fact that Ambrosial yoghurt is a sponsor of the Chinese popular tv-program Running Man. The viewers of Running Man are the Chinese youth who are also the ones who are responsible of the increase in yoghurt sales. In total Yili Dairy Group spent over RMB 2.5 bln on tv-ads, print media and radio in 2016. In addition to that Ambrosial yoghurt has also launched new varieties of yoghurt and improved old recipes. For example, for a new variety is, the new peach oat flavour. And by launching more diverse flavours, Ambrosial is responding to the sophisticated taste of the Chinese consumers.

Related items in 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.

 

 

Babao Porridge – food that enlightens

Babao Porridge (Babaozhou, Babaofan), a sweet rice porridge stuffed with dates, lotus seeds and other fruits, is an extremely interesting example of a traditional product revived by industrial production. The concept of babao is used in more traditional foods, e.g. zongzi, filled steamed rice cubes wrapped in leaves, which are introduced in a separate post of this blog.

Image             Image

Present day Babao Porridge is derived from a southern type of porridge called Laba Porridge. La refers to the La month, the last month of the lunar calendar and ba (‘eight’) to the eighth day of that month. On the 8th day of the lunar 12th month people used to prepare a porridge using eight or more ingredients to celebrate the end of the year. Another story explains the custom as a Buddhist tradition.

Laba porridge was first cooked as a sacrifice for ancestors and gods during Laba Festival as a part of winter worship. In an agricultural society, the 12th month or layue (腊月) was a time when families consumed some of their stores from the harvest season. Cooking a porridge with rich and varied ingredients is a way to celebrate a prosperous harvest for the year, in hopes of a better one to follow.

Just like Christmas overtaking the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, when Buddhism arrived in China, it stamped its own influence on this local tradition. For Buddhists, Laba Festival is also Buddha’s Enlightenment Day.

The legend says that Shakyamuni, after 6 years of seeking enlightenment by living frugally, once sat down under a tree, dead tired. A woman herding cows saw him and prepared a simple porridge for him using course cereals and wild fruits. Shakyamuni was so revived from eating a bowl of that porridge, that he immediately gained enlightenment. From that day on, Buddhist Temples prepared a similar type of porridge on the 8th of each 12th month.

With the increasing pace of life, modern Chinese are less and less willing to spend several hours a day in the kitchen. This includes less frequently prepared foods like Babao Porridge.

The basic production process is easy enough. The raw materials are mixed and cooked, cooled and then packed in cans, similar to those used to pack soft drinks. In this way, the porridge can be easily consumed as a convenient food, while travelling, as a snack during office work, etc. A plastic spoon is usually attached to the can, so the traveller does need to pack a metal spoon from the kitchen either.

Buddhist monestaries have to abide by the law as well, so more and more temples are producing laba porridge in a semi-industrialised clean way, to ensure that the faithful do not have to pay dearly for enjoying a bowl of laba porridge with food poisening. On the way, it earns the monestary a lot more income as well.

Formulation

The most essential aspect of the production of Babao Porridge is the combination of emulsifiers and thickeners. Babao Porridge consists of a viscous liquid part and solid parts. Manufacturers need to formulate the product in such a way, that the solid parts are more or less evenly distributed over the liquid part upon opening of the can.

A number of Chinese manufacturers of emulsifiers and thickeners supply products specially formulated for Babao Porridge. Some sources propagate CMC as the most appropriate thickener for this application.

A combination of CMC and a low calorie high intensity sweetener to replace the sugar will not only provide an authentic mouthfeel, but also decrease the caloric value.

Industrial recipes for so called ‘low calorie Babao Porridge,’ proposed by manufacturers of ingredients use sticky rice as the macro-ingredient, where part of the rice can be replaced with pumpkin. Various combinations of fruits (dates are most popular) and nuts (including peanuts) are added. Frequently suggested micro-ingredients and additives: pumpkin powder, xylitol, oligoxylose, CMC, konjac powder, and EDTA.

As a result of all the recent food safety problems, Chinese consumers have become more aware of ingredients and started asking if one food really needs so different ingredients. A recent article (24/9/2014) criticises the use of xanthan in one brand of Babao Porridge. Xanthan is known in the porridge industry under the nickname zhoubao, literally: ‘porridge treasure’. The reporter believes it is a means to hide the lack of skills of the manufacturer to produce a proper porridge.

Top brands

The following brands are recognised as China’s top brands for Babao porridge

Yinlu   PorrYinlu

The Yinlu Food Group was established in Xiamen (Fujian) in 1985 as producer of canned food and beverages. It is still one of China’s top producers of protein drinks. It now operates production units in Shandong, Hubei, Anhui and Sichuan. Nestlé has recently acquired a controlling stake in Yinlu.

Wahaha   PorrWahaha

The Wahaha Group was established in Hangzhou (Zhejiang) in 1987 as a private company operated by a school, producing tonic for school children. The founder and CEO, Mr. Zong Qinghou, is currently one of China’s richest entrepreneurs. Wahaha has 150 subsidiaries in all regions of China, employing 30,000 people. It ranks among China’s top 500 companies in 2014 It is a relatively new player in this market, but has rapidly risen to this position. The range includes a babao porridge sweetened with xylitol. Wahaha has started a new campaign for its canned porridge range in January 2015, stressing that the company is being loyal to the Chinese tradition of porridge making. The following picture says that Wahaha’s Babao Porridge ‘tastes just like mother used to cook it’

WahahPorr

Wahaha has launched another type of nutritious Babao Porridge mid 2018, under the Qingzhi brand.

Ingredients:

Koji, plant sterols, sugar, glutenous rice, barley kernels, red beans, maltitol, black rice, peanuts, red kidney beans, hulless barley, tremella, lecithin, sucrose ester, fatty acids, sodium tri-polyphosphate, acesulfame-k, EDTA-2Na, sucralose, water

Qinqi   PorrQinqi

Based in Guangzhou (Guangdong), Qinqi was the first in China to launch Babao porridge in cans, which created the market for ready to drink Babao porridge. Although no longer the number one brand, Qinqi still bears the honorary name ‘porridge king’.

Qinqin   PorrQinqin

This brand is owned by the Xinxin Food Group, established in Yangzhou (Jiangsu) in 1991, by a local factory and a Taiwan investor. It produces a range of convenience foods, including Babao porridge.

Tongfu   PorrTongfu

The name of the producer, Tongfu Bowl Porridge Co., Ltd., betrays that it is dedicated to producing exactly that: porridge in (plastic) bowls. Tongfu was the first to introduce this type of packaging in China. It is considerably lighter than the canned version. It is located in Wuhu (Anhui)

Eurasia Consult’s database 30 producers of Babao Porridge.

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

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.