Candy in China – not only for the eyes

China was the world’s second candy exporter in 2019 with a value of USD 910.8 mln (8.6% of the global exports)

I have already mentioned candy in some of my posts, like the huamei candy as an example of how a traditional sweet is used in China as an ingredient for a novel food, a company like Hsu Fu Chi that is one of China’s top biscuit producers, but also makes candy. As most Chinese have a sweet tooth, it is time to dedicate an entire post to the Chinese candy market.

Top 10 candy brands of 2016

Brand Share (%)
Hsu Fu Chi 17.46
Alpenliebe 6.86
Madajie 5.22
Golden Monkey 4.73
Extra 4.35
Yake 3.77
Wrigley 3.52
Big White Rabbit 3.37
Orion 3.29
Fujiya 3.26

Hsu Fu Chi and Orion also rank among China’s top biscuit brands.

The global top 100 candy companies list for 2023 for the first time included a Chinese company: Shenzhen-based Amos Sweets. It came in at the 95th position, but after several food safety incidents in the past couple of decades, this is an accomplishment worthy for a congratulation.

Top regions

The following table shows the regional breakdown of candy production in China in 2017.

Region mt
National 33,136,510,000
Fujian 8,081,420,000
Guangdong 6,684,470,000
Hunan 3,002,380,000
Shandong 1,880,940,000
Hubei 1,765,570,000
Henan 1,716,370,000
Shanghai 1,487,180,000
Sichuan 1,352,090,000
Anhui 1,267,100,000
Jiangxi 1,185,240,000
Jiangsu 1,061,970,000
Hebei 928,590,000
Guizhou 599,630,000
Chongqing 482,510,000
Qinghai 460,200,000
Zhejiang 261,020,000
Beijing 259,160,000
Shaanxi 209,500,000
Yunnan 164,630,000
Hainan 99,850,000
Xinjiang 78,870,000
Tianjin 62,500,000
Shanxi 33,800,000
Liaoning 9,040,000
Guangxi 1,440,000
Ningxia 5,60,000
Inner Mongolia 530,000

The first three regions alone are already good for more than half the national output. The regions not included in this table do not produce (significant volumes of) candy. The value of the Chinese candy market is expected to reach RMB 414.8 billion in 2020. The country has produced 1,062,252.2 mt of candy in the first 5 months of 2020; Fujian was the largest region good for 37.44%.

The most typical Chinese candy

Candy is a rather Western thing, but if you want me to identify a ‘traditional’ Chinese candy, my first choice will be dabaitu, ‘Big White Rabbit’ milk candy, produced by Guanshengyuan in Shanghai (est. 1918).


It is a white soft nougat-like candy. Before wrapping, each candy is wrapped in thin edible rice paper. This is meant to prevent the candy from sticking at your fingers and can be eaten along with the rest of the candy. The ingredients as listed on the packaging are:

Edible glutinous rice paper (edible starch, water, glycerin monostearate), liquid maltose, sugar, whole milk powder, butter, additives (gelatin, vanillin), corn starch, syrup, cane sugar, butter, and milk.

Each candy contains 20 calories. Older Chinese still remember Guanshangyuan’s original slogan: Seven White Rabbit candies is equivalent to one cup of milk. It is therefore positioned as a nutritional product. It is still extremely popular. This product alone generated a turnover of RMB 320 mln in 2013. For decades, there was only the original vanilla flavour, but new flavours, like: chocolate, coffee, toffee, peanut, maize, coconut, lychee, strawberry, mango, red bean, yogurt, and fruit have been added. An ‘extra creamy’ variety has also been launched. The latest addition is ‘ice cream flavour’. According to the packaging, the ingredients are:

Liquid maltose, sugar, whole condensed milk, whole milk powder, cream, additives (gelatine, vanillin, food flavours), edible glutinous rice paper (edible starch, water, glycerin monostearate).

The difference with the traditional candy seems to be small, and mainly in the use of flavours.

For more about the White Rabbit brand, see my special post on this topic.

Tradition slowly forgotten (?)

I don’t want to make northerners think that I have a special liking for Shanghai, so I would like to introduce another traditional candy, that is much older, but less well known outside China, that Big White Rabbit creamy candy: crispy shrimp candy. ShrimpCrips

These are traditionally made by rolling a chunk of hot molten sugar into a thin sheet, covering one side with sesame paste, and rolling it up into a cylinder that is finally cut into candy-sized pieces. It is a traditional treat from North China that has been adapted to industrial production in the course of the 20th Century. They are being produced up to the present day, but many older consumers find that the flavour and texture of the current shrimp candy do not match that of the tradition product. Perhaps it has something to do with ingredients, but it can also be a matter of nostalgia, the feeling that nothing tastes as it did before.

Wedding candy – a typically Chinese category

A very Chinese type of candy is wedding candy, or as the Chinese put it: ‘happy candy (xitang)’. Handing out candy is part of every Chinese wedding ceremony. Newly weds often bring some to the workplace to hand out to colleagues who have not attended the ceremony. You can use any candy, but candy makers have started identifying wedding candy as a special market segment and have increased R&D efforts to develop special candy with suitable flavours and colours, and packaging, for this special moment in a couple’s life. Insiders estimate the #Chinese market for wedding at RMB 16 bln, with still considerable growth potential.


Foreign markets

Chinese candy is finding its way to foreign market. A good example is Jinli Candy Co Ltd, a candy producer established in 1984 in Huairen county of Shanxi’s Shuozhou city. In 2010, the company began to export its candies to the Netherlands and in 2011, it established a cooperation relationship with the US Disney company. In 2015, it was listed among suppliers for the US-based Wal-Mart, becoming one of the few Chinese candy producers to enter the European and American markets. Over the years, the Jinli Candy Co has sold its middle-high-end candies to over 13 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Russia, Spain, and Belgium. In 2014, the company’s exports reached $1.5 million.


China Candy in international limelight

Ever Maple Flavors and Fragrances Holdings, under control of Kelly Zong, daughter of Wahaha founder and chairman Zong QInghou, has acquire China Candy Holdings in May 2017. The mother company is based in Fujian province and manufactures and sells candies under the Holeywood brand in China, South East Asia, North America, Europe, and internationally. The company’s products include jelly drops candies, aerated candies, hard candies, and chocolate-made products. Rumours about this take over had been around for months. Ms. Zong is also chairman and executive president of Hongsheng Group, beverage producer recording turnover of RMB 5 bln per year. It looks as if she is following her father’s footsteps in building a food and beverage conglomerate, though focused on what Chinese like to refer to as leisure foods and drinks. This move also proves that the Chinese confectionery industry is currently maturing to a global level.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.


The pick of Chinese pickles: zhacai

Pickled vegetables have become such a big business in China, that a special China Pickled Vegetable Industry Association has been founded in 2020

If we were to pinpoint a vegetable as THE most representative of Chinese pickled vegetables, it would be zhacai. The Latin name of zhacai is Brassica juncea tumida. It is a peculiarly looking pickled vegetable, resembling the shape of a fist. It is the stem of a variety of mustard. It is therefore also marketed as ‘preserved Chinese mustard stem’.


This special pickle originates from Sichuan (the Chongqing region, which is now a separate administrative region) and was first created in 1898. Another region with substantial production is Yuyao, near Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province.

The name zhacai, literally meaning pressed vegetable, was inspired by the process employed to press out the salt water using a bean curd press. Zhacai is flavoured with salt, chilli, pepper and a mix of typical local spices like star aniseed, kaempferia galanga, glycyrrhiza, etc. The exact composition of the spice mix is the secret of the manufacturer.

Though covered in chilli, it is not hot but extremely salty and is usually cut to size and soaked to remove the salt before cooking. When only a small amount is used as a seasoning, no soaking is necessary. It should be cooked only briefly to retain the crunchy texture.

The total turnover of the zhacai industry was RMB 6.7 billion in 2019. Roughly two thirds of this turnover are realised in the Chongqing region and one third in the Yuyao region.

Have a look at a Chinese video showing the processing of zhacai. Although it is in Chinese, experts should be able to understand the gist.

Zhacai is an essential ingredient in the famous Hot and Sour Soup. Entire tubers available in glass or stone jars, or cans. Shreds are sold in plastic bags Some manufacturers combine zhacai shreds with shredded mushrooms or other vegetables.


In recent years, the market for zhacai has expanded considerably, after it had become a kind of leisure food. It is shredded and packed in small aluminium sachets. The shreds can be used to spice up dishes, in particular the more bland convenience foods like instant noodles, or instant congee. Many Chinese even nibble on zhacai shreds in front of the TV.


On average, 100 gr. of zhacai has the following composition.

Substance Content
Water 67.3 gr
Protein 4.4 gr
Fat 1.2 gr
Carbohydrates 5.6 gr
Crude fibre 3.1 gr
Ash 18.4 gr
Calcium 224 mg
Phosphorus 125 mg
Iron 8.1 mg

Zhacai: – the pillar of Fuling economy

The Fuling region of Chongqing has always been famous for its zhacai. The local authorities are supporting the development of growing and processing of this vegetable. Zhacai is regarded as the symbol of Fuling and vice versa. The region produced 1.28 million MT of zhacai in 2012. Almost 90% of this was processed into ‘convenience zhacai’. They also intend to promote export. Zhacai is currently the highest valued of the ‘Chinese Local Brands’, with an estimated value of RMB 12.532 billion. Zhacai is often refered to as another name for Fuling. Fuling has given its name to the Fuling Group, China’s largest processor of zhacai. Fuling Group generated a turnover of RMB 1,989,593,123.12 in 2019, up 3.93%.

Fuling is also the home of China’s only research institute specialised in zhacai: the Yudongnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, with a separate Zhacai Research Department.

The importance of the Fuling region is reflected in the fact that China’s top 3 brands of pickled vegetables (so not exclusively zhacai) are all located in there.


Wujiang brand (Fuling Zhacai Group)


Yuquan brand (Yuquan Zhacai Group)

This is the brand we use at home, so I will use the ingredients list of Yuquan zhacai as reference:

zhacai (88%), salt, sugar, sesame oil, rape seed oil, MSG, disodium isonate, citric acid, spices.


Fuliing Lameizi (Lameizi (Hot Sister) Group)

Fuling Zhacai Group announced in August 2017 that a new 40,000 cubic metre production tank will be constructed, involving an investment of RMB 162 mln.


The Baiheliang Zhacai Factory of the Fuling Zhaicai Group has installed a completely automated production line in 2015. Here are a few photos from that plant.

Tubers drying in the open air

The shredded tubers

Packing the shreds


Packed and pasteurised

From zhacai to soy sauce – an innovative process

An interesting development is the use of the affluent of zhacai processing to produce soy sauce. The Fuling Group, China’s largest manufacturer of zhacai (capacity in 2014: 64,800 mt/p.a.), listed at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, has developed that technology. Moreover, the new soy sauce process no longer includes steps that require manual labour. Work that before required 500 workers, now only needs 30 – 40 people to complete. This is a fine example of how a traditional product can inspire industrial innovation.

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.