Traditional Chinese snack food

Earlier in this blog I posted an item about leisure food, a typical food group in Chinese food industry statistics. This is a very broad range of foods that Chinese eat while on holiday, sitting in their favourite chair in front of the TV, in the stadium watching their team play, and virtually all other occasions that they are not eating a proper meal.

The Chinese do have their own traditional snacks, which is a subset of the leisure foods. In the light of the over general nationalist trend in China after President Xi and his new crew rose to power, Chinese are also getting more aware of ‘their own’ traditional snacks.

However, the same applies to those snack foods as I reported earlier about a food like instant noodles, or steamed bread (mantou): they need to be packed in pocket-sized easy to carry and ready to eat portions, while preserving the original texture, taste and flavour.

That is a major challenge for the Chinese food R&D community, but it is worth the effort. The production of traditional Chinese snack food has increased from approximately 1.93 million mt in 2004 to almost 3.88 million mt in 2014. The market value rose from RMB 54.008 billion to RMB 387.532 billion.

In the remainder of this post, I will list the categories of traditional Chinese snack food as usual distinguished in Chinese statistics.

Nuts, seeds and other roasted goods

Nuts do not need further explanation. Roasted goods (chaohuo) are melon seeds, pine seeds, peanuts, and other plant seeds that are roasted to increase flavour and digestibility. The value of this market segment is expected to reach RMB 105.3 billion in 2020.

NutsSeeds

China has produced a total of 4,506,500 mt of seeds in 2018; broken down in the following table.

Type volume
Sunflower seeds 3,250,000
White melon seeds 711,500
Sweet melon seeds 545,000

An interesting company to watch in this business is Three Squirrels (Sanzhisongshu). Three Squirrels is the pin-up kid in China’s snacking segment. Launching in 2012, it took just 65 days to become the top nut seller on Tmall and today it’s China’s best-selling food brand online. The company’s turnover has grown from RMB 924.473 mln in 2014, RMB and 2.043 bln in 2015 to RMB 4.42 bln in 2016. Most of this success is due to its online sales and its vast network of region distribution centres. It has achieved this all while charging a premium above most of its competitors.

Three Squirrels plays to Chinese consumers’ love of cute furry animals by cleverly incorporating its cartoon mascots into everything it does, from branding to customer service. Images and videos of the squirrels attract engagement rates far beyond most of its competitors online. It has created an army of advocates who earn social credit filling their WeChat feeds with images of their mascots, selfies with their products and even positive experiences with customer care. Three Squirrels also transforms consumption into an experience providing nutcrackers and a suite of other add-ons.

       

The latest stunt by Three Squirrels is linking up with Monlot, a Bordeau-based vinyard acquired by the Chinese movie star Vicky Zhao. Check out this picture of Monlot Three Squirrels. It is an interesting ruse to embed a Chinese-owned foreign vinyard in the local food industry.

Some nuts are assigned medicinal qualities in traditional Chinese medicine. An example is the wild almond (Semen Armeniacae Vulgaris; ‘shanxingren (mountain almond)’ in Chinese). They are said to have antipyretic functions and help bowel movements. A noted producer of wild almonds is Fangxu Food (Beijing).

A recent trend in the Chinese nut market is small packagings. more “one day pack” nuts have appeared in the market since 2016, and accounted for 25% of the market size in 2018. First tier and second tier cities made up nearly 45% of the entire “one day pack” nuts consumer market of 2018. and consumers born between 1990 and 1995 formed the bulk of the consumers.

Preserved fruits

I already dedicated a post one of them: huamei. Preserved fruits fall under foods that have been invented in times that there was no cooled storage or other way to preserve fruits. They have become part of the local diet particularly in North China, with its cold winters. The northern preserved fruits are drier; those in south stickier. The value of this market segment rose from RMB 17.014 billion in 2004 to RMB 105.066 billion in 2014.

PresFruits

Dried and preserved meat

The top product in this group is beef jerky, although shredded pork (rousong) could be almost as big. The latest invention in this range is a series of duck products (tongues, feed, necks, gizzards, hearts) that I introduced in my post on Peking Duck. The value of this market segment rose from RMB 7.763 billion in 2004 to RMB 45.289 billion in 2014.

DriedMeat

Bean products

Chinese love to chew on all kinds of dried and roasted beans, so it has become a separate category of snack foods. The most famous are the fennel flavoured beans (huixiangdou) that have been eternalised by Lu Xun’s short story Kong Yiji. They are small green soy beans toasted with cinnamon, fennel and other spices. On the basis of huixiangdou, a Shanghai shopkeeper invented a new variety called wuxiangdou ‘five spice beans’. They are broad beans with a firmer texture, a white skin, and white pulp. They are roasted with five ingredients: fennel, citrus, cinnamon, sugar and essence, to reach a unique mix of flavours. The value of this market segment rose from RMB 5.890 billion in 2004 to RMB 46.204 billion in 2014.

ProcBeans

Other

The bulk of the remaining traditional snacks are dried or wet pickled or preserved vegetables. The typical way to preserve vegetables is by fermentation. An example, zhacai, has been introduced in an earlier post.

DriedVegFrt

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.

 

Leisure food – A food group strongly embedded in Chinese culture

The existence of a category like leisure food in Chinese food statistics is rooted in the laid back nature of Chinese culture

Entering a typical Chinese supermarket and looking around at the distribution of foods and beverages on the shelves, one indication that may strike you as unfamiliar, of even odd, is ‘Leisure food’, xiuxian shipin in Chinese.

Leisure and food are a match made in heaven in any culture, but there is no nation that created a more harmonious marriage between those two concepts than the Chinese. Visit any historic site in a Chinese city, and you will be amazed about the choice of snacks and drinks that are on sale in small shops or by street vendors.

When you then zoom in on the domestic tourists, you will have a hard time spotting one who is not eating or drinking, or at least visibly carrying food in their bags, ready to take it out and have a bite.

Before getting to those sites, or scenic spots, you need to travel. China is a huge country, so travelling can take time, and the best way to kill time in any culture is . . . eating. Chinese airports, train stations and long distance bus terminals are genuine food streets, offering everything the easily bore passengers may want to keep themselves, and their facial muscles in particular, busy. Eating has thus become the favourite way to pass the time on long haul rides in China.

Chinese high school and university students are also an important consumer group of leisure foods. Bakery products and meat snacks are their favourite foods during breaks.

All this has led to the coining of the category leisure food in the Chinese food industry.

It has become an officially recognized term. The library of Eurasia Consult has a collection of Food Industry Yearbooks starting with 1985 until the early 2000s, when the Internet rendered those paper information carriers unnecessary. Leisure Food is a separate section in those books, like the separate shelf for those products in Chinese supermarkets.

Leisure food is a hybrid collection of foods comprising:

One source divides leisure foods in the following subcategories:

Type main market customers outlets consumption mode
Private consumption home family members Residential areas, special shops, convenience stores At home
Travel food travelling travellers local special shops, supermarkets , airports, railroad stations, tourist spots Travelling, gift giving
Gifts Gift giving people in need of gifts special shops, supermarkets Gift giving

What I especially like in this division is the category of ‘gifts’. It always a nice gesture to bring home local delicacies when returning from a trip. And with a country as large and varied as China, there are more local specialties than a person can bring home in a life time. Moreover, gifts play a key role in Chinese culture. This is why Chinese airports and larger railway stations sell local foods in fancy gift packaging. People do not buy those to eat themselves, but to give them to relatives and friends.

The following graph shows the market shares of various categories of leisure food of December 2019.

 

Market size and value

There are more than 4000 manufacturers of leisure food in China.The leisure food industry in 2018 was worth RMB 1029.7 bln; up 12%. Insiders expect that the value of this market will reach RMB 1298.4 bln by 2020.

Ingredients

It is an interesting market for suppliers of food ingredients. Preservation is key term here, not only referring to keeping the bugs out, but also the preservation of the flavor, color and texture.

This sector is also an interesting market for suppliers of food packaging machinery. All of the above mentioned products need to be packed in small portions, that can be conveniently stowed in ones pocket or hand bag. The preferred size is the single-portion package; a pack you open and empty in one leisurely moment, without the need to close and seal it for the next moment.

Image

Trends for 2017

  • Leisure food should be tasty, novel and healthy. Snacks are by definition tasty. Consumers will only make repeat purchases and remember the brand if a snack is delicious. Chinese consumers are eager to try new leisure foods. As long as a product is novel and interesting, they are willing to give it a go. As Chinese are becoming increasingly health conscious, growing numbers place great emphasis on the nutrition facts of nibbles, such as those that are low in sodium, sugar and fat. This also includes additives in general. If more flavourings are added in order to create exciting taste, it can may Chinese consumers, who are now avid readers of ingredients lists, suspicious.
  • Small Packs are the trend. A very prominent trend is packs are getting smaller and smaller. Factors driving the growing demand for leisure food in mini packs are convenience, hygiene, pricing and visual impression. Mini packs can satisfy consumers’ demand for “convenient and hygienic one-off consumption”. They are particularly popular with female consumers who prefer snacks that can be eaten in one go. With large packs, if the food inside cannot be consumed straight away after they are opened, some consumers would not want to eat it again afterwards as they would consider it to be neither fresh nor hygienic.

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.