Drinks galore – the Chinese typology of beverages

The Chinese typology of foods and beverages is one of the recurrent themes in this blog. The typical way in which such products are divided in categories in a certain region provides an interesting look on the influence of the local culture on eating and drinking.

This post will continue with this topic with the typology of beverages. This typology has even been officially laid down in a State Standard (GB), GB10789 to be precise. It discerns the following types.

Carbonated drinks

These are relatively new in China and still strongly connected to the Western lifestyle. China’s oldest carbonated drink: Beibingyang (Northern Ice Sea) has been revived recently, which I have introduced in a separate post on the reappearance of old brands.

Protein beverages

Although not a Chinese invention, this category is much more popular in China than elsewhere in the world. They have also been introduced separately in a previous post. Protein beverages are relatively viscous liquids made from various nuts or beans, or milk, or a combination. A number of them include probiotic cultures.

Bottled water

Paying a lot of money for something that you can get from your tap for a much lower price has also taken on in China. Apart from the large number of branded water, new mineral water brands keep appearing in China. Many are profiling themselves with the location of their source. The trend of 2015 in this category was mineral water from Tibet.

Some statistics of the past 5 years

Year Volume

(hls)

Increase

(%)

2015 841,016,000 7.60
2014 781,614,000 9.37
2013 665,114,000 13.01
2012 556,278,000 19.20
2011 178,900,000 23.67

The top brands in 2015

Brand market share

(%)

Yibao 20.4
Nongfu Spring 20.1
Chef Kong 11.0

 

Tea beverages

Tea is China’s national drink, but still, tea beverages have been introduced from overseas. When foreign ice teas were launched in China, many beverage makers tried to concoct their own versions. Tea beverages with various fruit flavours appeared one after another.

Milk tea

A rapidly growing subcategory are the milk teas, based on traditional milk or butter teas drunk by Mongolians and Tibetans.

Sizhou

The pictures shows the Sizhou brand milk tea, with the following ingredients:

Water, crystal sugar, whole milk powder, black tea, food additives (sucrose ester, sodium bicarbonate)

In the course of 2018, China’s tea aficionados have embraced a new trend, one that is encapsulated in the growing popularity of the milk tea brand, Hey Tea. Originally sold in a tiny alleyway in Jiangmen, southern China’s Guangdong province, the brand went viral on social media because of its signature “cheese” series — a cup of hot tea topped with light cheesecake mix. Since then, Hey Tea has developed into a franchise with more than 80 outlets in 13 cities across the country. In large urban centres such as Shanghai and Beijing, customers routinely wait for hours to get their hands on a cup of cheese tea. Hey Tea’s cheese-inspired beverages are just variations of the same milk-topped teas available at many urban teashops in China. Fresh milk, skimmed milk, and cream cheese are blended and poured on top of iced tea to create a layer of creamy froth about 3cm thick.

Milk tea is becoming such a huge market that ingredients suppliers have started to prioritise it in their R&D. FrieslandCampina Kievit, e.g., is conducting research to develop the optimum dairy ingredients for Chinese milk tea. Aspects considered include: tea type, milkiness, sweetness and mouthfeel.

A new development in the Chinese tea beverage market is mixed tea drinks. Representative brands are: Teaka (tea + coffee), Chef Kong’s tea + milk, Cha pi (tea + fruit juice) and Hongchajun (tea + probiotics).

TeaPluss

Multinationals like Coca Cola cannot afford to miss out on the popularity of tea beverages in China. The company has launched a range of tea drinks branded Chunchashe ‘Genuine Tea House’. It is marketed as not containing sugar, but still leaving a sweet aftertaste. It comes in green, black and Wulong flavours.

Herbal tea

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making an effort to cash in on the increasing interest in health foods among Chinese consumers, as has been introduced in earlier posts. The market value was estimated at more than RMB 40 billion late 2015 and is expected to grow to close to RMB 20 billion in 2020.. A very prominent application of medicinal herbs as food ingredients are the herbal teas that have become popular during the past few years. The first and most popular, Wanglaoji, is still based on a traditional recipe. Later herbal teas are marketed as modern health or functional beverages, comparing and competing with Western drinks like Red Bull. A very recently launched product in this category is Good Night (Wan An), produced by Wan’an Technology Co., Ltd. (Beijing). Ingredients are said to include:

natural GABA, theanine, chamomile and spina date seed

GoodNight

Wanglaoji launched its own cola drink, Wanglaoji Cola, in January 2018. The company promoted it during the Davos Summit.

Coffee beverages

Coffee being such a recent arrival in China, so closely linked to a Western lifestyle, it seems odd to find it as an officially sanctioned subcategory of beverages. However, they have become quite popular. Perhaps they are easier on the Chinese palate than the basic black brew. The have been introduced in this blog before, in a separate post.

Plant beverages

This category includes drinks made from the juice of vegetables and fruits, in various degrees of concentration. Cereal based drinks are also included. A subtype that is especially popular in China is called ‘fruit tea’ (guocha) in Chinese. The best English translation would be ‘nectar’. The are relatively viscous drinks with carrot or hawthorn pulp as the main ingredient. China’s top producer in this category is Huiyuan Fruit Juice (Beijing). The company was once an acquisition target of Coca Cola, but the deal was vetoed by the Chinese cartel watchdog. Huiyuan recently launched a range of juices in Malaysia under the Yami brand.

The latest addition to the fruit nectars is Zaoshanzha, a drink made from dates and hawthorn by Haoxiangni.

Another subtype is formed by the fruit vinegars. These beverages have become in vogue in the years 2015 – 2016 as health products that help burn fat. In the early stage, it looked as if they would become a success, cashing in on the general trend towards more healthy food in China. However, the tide seemed to turn mid 2018, when a prominent brand, Tiandi Nr. 1 (Tiandi Yihao)’s semi-annual report showed a turnover almost half that of the same period of the previous year.

Flavoured beverages

The literal translation of the Chinese definition of this category is: drinks made by combining food flavours, sugar or sweeteners, or acidifiers. We probably could also refer to these as: designer beverages. It is not always easy to distinguish these from other categories. If you boil tea leaves and the add other flavouring ingredients to the filtered liquid, you would have a tea beverage. However, a drink whose ingredients list includes tea extract, would count as a flavoured beverage.

Nutritious beverages

These include sports drinks and other functional beverages. This category started to boom in the course of 2016. As a result, Red Bull is confronted with an ever growing number of domestic competitors in China. One of the frist challengers (August 2016) was a vitamin drink by Want Want, presented in a gold-coloured can.

WantGolden

This product category is getting so popular, that a dairy company like Yili launched an energy drink of its own in April 2018: Huanxingyuan.

Solid beverages

These are sold in powdered from and infused before consumption. There is at least one traditional Chinese drink typically sold as such: suanmeitang or sour plum drink (literally: soup). A more recent, but still traditional, product is instant soy milk. Many members of the other categories are now also available in powdered form.

Yiben

The picture shows Yiben brand suanmeitang, which contains the following ingredients:

Water, fructose, crystal sugar, plums, citric acid, sodium citrate, plum flavour.

Senke Beverages has launched an innovative type of suanmeitang adding traditional Chinese medicinal herbs, marketed as ‘Lotus Leaf Suanmeitang‘, in the summer of 2018. Apart from quenching thirst, it is said to lower cholesterol and have a certain slimming effect.

Daring launches – low survival

Chinese beverage makers are quite daring in launching newly developed products on the market, where Western multinationals would organise more pilots to test the products’ reception by consumers. However, a recent survey by the China Food Industry Association reveals that only 5% of newly launched Chinese beverages survive. I guess that is test marketing the Chinese way.

 

How do Westerners appreciate this?

Are you getting bored with my academic stories? No problem, you can now relax watching this home brew video in which a Western lady living in China introduces here own favourite Chinese beverages.

Here is another Top 5, but then of the most bizarre Chinese drinks.

Latest trend: odd flavours

The structure of the Chinese soft drinks market is undergoing rapid changes. Consumers are developing an awareness of personality, paying more attention to individual needs and preferences. This has created a market for what Chinese have started to call ‘odd flavour water (guaiweishui)’. Laoshan, China’s first and for a long time only producer of mineral water, has launched Baishecaoshui (literally: white snake grass water). It is based on Baishecao (oldenlandia). Hey Song Sarsaparilla from Taiwan is also gaining popularity. The current top producer of mineral water, Nongfu Spring (see above), has also launched odd flavour drinks: Oriental Leaves (Dongfang Shuye), which does not contain herbal extracts, but a mix of flavourings and nutrients, and Red Pointed Leaves (Hongse Jianye), which contains extracts from American Ginseng, green tea and bamboo. This market is extremely volatile. The survival rate of new drinks is generally about 10%, and is now dropping to 5%, according to recent market studies. These products are catering to the young and young Chinese consumers have a low brand loyalty where food and drinks are concerned.

I will keep you informed by regularly updating 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.

 

 

 

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Protein drinks – the Chinese alternative for dairy

In previous blogs on dairy (traditional dairy, formulated dairy), I have pointed out that in spite of the rapid development of this industry in China, the taste of milk is still inhibiting for most Chinese. Especially the formulated products are meant to address this problem by creating a host of products that deliver the nutrition of milk, while disguising the creamy flavour that so many Chinese still find hard to get used to.

However, there is an alternative group of products that have a nutrition profile more or less like milk, but lack the problematic flavour, because it is plant based: protein drinks. While soy-based drinks have made considerable progress in Europe recently, as life style products, they have been popular in China for ages.

Traditional products like soybean milk have appeared in various modernised versions, and other protein drinks from almonds, peanuts, or coconuts have been added. Their popularity is evident from the large variety of products available in Chinese supermarkets. The total turnover for protein drinks in 2015 exceeded RMB 100 bln, and is expected to 258.3 bln by 2020.

The main technical problem to crack in these products is maintaining a proper emulsion. Protein gel is combined with an oil-in-water emulsion, which results in a non-heatstable liquid, which can only be countered with a mix of emulsifiers. Most recipes use sucrose ester, combined with monoglyceride, alginates, etc.

Let’s have a look at the most representative types, according to source.

 

Soybeans

Soybean milk is a traditional product in China. The earliest records of it date from the West Han period (2nd Cent. B.C.).

The process requires soybeans with a sufficient water content (10% – 14%). After the hulls have been removed, the beans are pressed and water is added. In the modern production process, a chelating agent like EDTA is added for stabilisation. The raw soy milk is cooked for about 10 minutes. After centrifuging, nutrients like fat, sugar, or vitamins and minerals (e.g. calcium to create the perfect alternative for milk) can be added. Flavours can be added too, either to strengthen the typical soy flavour, or adding new flavours, typically those of fruits.

China’s top producer of soybean milk is Weiwei, located in Xuzhou (Jiangsu). The company’s main product is instant soybean milk, which make it the most convenient of the protein beverages introduced in this blog. The other drinks are only available in liquid form.

Image

 

Soybean milk is so popular in China, that KFC has decided to add it to their breakfast choices in their Chinese outlets.

KFCsoy

Weiwei continued on this development by launching soybean milk in a bottle that resembles the classic Coca Cola bottle late 2017, even stronger suggesting that soybean milk can be consumed as a healthy alternative for soft drinks.

Another recent innovation by Weiwei is launching a range of canned soybean milk with various flavours, including coffee.

Almonds

Almond milk is not really an alternative for dairy, as milk is used as an ingredient. The recipe I consulted for this blog lists almonds and Chinese yam (shanyao) as the main ingredients and milk and honey as auxiliary ingredients.

The almonds are roasted, crushed and cooked with the milk and yam. The honey is added after the milk starts boiling.

Almond milk has been made popular in China by Lulu, a company based in Chengde (Hebei). The typical thin cans of Lulu have been on the market for more than two decades, as an alternative for milk, as well as a drink for those who cannot drink alcohol during a banquet. Lulu realised a turnover of RMB 2.112 billion in 2017.

It is thicker than soybean milk and quite sweet. One Dutch friend called it ‘liquid marzipan’ after his first sip. With ups and downs, Lulu is still a serious player in this market.

Image

Lulu’s turnover started to slip in 2017 and the company is trying to recoup market share by launching special protein beverages for children, like Xiao Lulu (‘Littel Lulu’).

Coconuts

Coconut milk will not be a new product for most readers. It is a traditional product of Southeast Asia, and that is the region from which it gradually conquered China. Those with 1.5-2% fat content have been very popular in China for many years, and the market continues to grow. The top producer of coconut milk in China is Yedao (literally: ‘coconut island’), located in the tropical island province Hainan.

Coconut milk is pressed from the flesh of unripe coconuts. Only some water and sugar are added.

Like Lulu’s almond milk, Yedao’s canned coconut milk quickly appeared in Chinese restaurants as the drink for drivers and other people who were unable to drink alcohol, but wanted something with a more stimulating taste than water or chemical laden soft drinks.

CoconuM

Walnuts

Walnut milk is made from walnuts and water. Walnuts are ascribed a number of medicinal properties, which are prominent in the marketing stories of the various manufacturers. Unlike the protein drinks introduced above, there is not ‘leading player’ in this market yet. Still, a National Quality Standard (GB/T 31325-2014) has been promulgated for walnut milk in on Dec. 5, 2014.

Image

A top producer of walnut milk is Six Walnuts. It generated a net profit of RMB 2.67 billion in 2018, up 15.92%.

An interesting development is that one Chinese coffee maker (Hogood) has launched a new type of coffee creamer made from walnut milk, marketed as Walnut 007.

Peanuts

Peanut milk, like the almond variety, is using the real thing as an ingredient. It is made from peanuts and milk, and even more than almond milk, peanut milk is more peanut-flavoured milk, like the ginger milk introduced in an earlier blog. It enriches the already nutritional milk with linoleic and arachidonic acid. And it covers the creamy taste of milk with a soft peanut flavour.

Yinlu in Xiamen (Fujian) is a major producer of peanut milk. The company is now under the control of Nestlé, which makes Nestlé the first foreign player in this market. Recently, Nestlé has announced that it is looking at updating its Yinlu peanut milk brand to satisfy consumers who prefer fewer additives and alternative ingredients.

Image

Yinlu has launched two products with multiple raw materials in 2017: red beans + peanuts and Job’s tears + peanuts.

The growing popularity of protein beverage has attracted the attention of the recently revived beverage brand Beibingyang. The company has launched a peanut drink of its own trying to create synergy between its well known brand name (including the polar bear logo) and the current interest in protein beverages.

Hickory

The latest addition to this growing range of beverage is the hickory protein drink from Tiannie Hickory Food Co., Ltd. (Guangyuan, Sichuan). The product has been launched in 2014. The raw materials are grown locally.

Tiannie

Sesame

Nanfang Food (Nanning, Guangxi) produces black Heiheiru brand sesame milk, a protein drink made from black sesame. Its ingredients list:

Water, black sesame, sugar, milk powder, starch, peanuts, sodium caseinate, sodium tri-polyphosphate, xanthan, CMC, carrageenan, monoglyceride, sucrose ester

This list shows that Heiheiru is not really a ‘sesame drink’, but a compound protein drink flavoured with black sesame. It partly owes its popularity to the colour black that is associated with a high anti-oxidant content.

Rice

Dashu Life Sciences (Jilin), in cooperation with Jiangnan University, has developed a new type of rice protein beverage under the Shangshanyuan (Sunshary) brand.

Oats

The oat drink Oatly has been introduced in China in the course of 2018 and is gaining popularity in coffee shops as vegetarian alternative for cow milk. Oatly’s introduction to China was aided by one of its Chinese investors: China Resources.

Compounds

Compound protein beverages have also appeared, like the walnut peanut milk produced by Taigeili in Chengdu (Sichuan). This company is known for innovative products like rose vinegar.

Image

This market is getting so lucrative, that even an ingredient manufacturer like Jiangsu Howbetter (specialised in food texture and premix technology for dairy, beverage, bakery, and ice-cream) has launched a new plant-based beverage prototype made from peanut, walnut, almond, hazelnut, pine nut, cashew nut, pecan, Australian macadamia nuts, and Hawaiian macadamia nuts, which it showcased on the Food Ingredients China 2019 trade fair.

Not so natural

Although these drinks are all marketed as healthy beverages (not health beverages, that is another category in China), the ingredients listed on the label of Hengyi Yinxue walnut beverage includes an impressive number of additives:

Water, walnut kernels, crystal sugar, additives (xanthan, polyglycerin fatty acid ester, sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium pyrophosphate, sodium d-isoascorbate, sodium dihydrogen phosphate), food flavour

This way of listing additives is presecribed by Chinese law. Interestingly, flavours are not regarded as additives in this regulation and therefore not listed within the brackets.

 

Foreign interest

The Reignwood Group, the Chinese distributer of Red Bull, has acquired a 25% stake in Vita Coco, a US producer of coconut juice, in July 2014. In China, through Vita Coco’s own feet on the street along with the approximately 2000 employees of Red Bull China, the brand will be available about 130,000 stores soon.

Minutemaid has launched its own range of protein beverage in China mid 2017.

The dairy empire strikes back

China’s top dairy companies have adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them’ strategy. Mengniu and Yili, the top 2, have launched their own protein beverages recently. Yili announced its plans during a public meeting at the end of 2014. Mengniu has entered into a joint venture with US-based WhiteWave Foods Company, a leading consumer packaged food and beverage company in North America and Europe early 2013. The jv is marketing WhiteWave’s Silk brand protein drinks in China. This product is common in the US and is an affiliate of Alpro, a brand in Europe, though its positioning in China is quite unique. With its convergence of flavours, Silk’s positioning as a 100% natural solution, targeting those that are lactose intolerant, could spell success for Silk in China, especially as consumers become ever more sceptical regarding the origin, nutrition, safety and environmental impact of the food and beverages they buy.

SilkAlmond

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.