Do novel foods reflect an individualisation trend in Chinese culture?

Yili Dairy, China’s top dairy brand (and second food brand in 2014), based in the capital of Inner Mongolia, Huhhot, has launched remarkable marketing campaigns for some of its popular products. Mengniu, located in the same city, has followed suit.

Oat milk

Breakfast milk is; another member of the expanding Chinese family of formulated dairy products. Yili has entered this market with Oat Milk.

The phenomenon breakfast milk is a product of the increasing of the pace of life in China. From the beginning of the Chinese nation to very recent times, three hot meals a day were sacred in China. Gobbling down a sandwich on your way to work, a familiar sight in my home region, would abhor any Chinese. That thing with the sandwich is still rare in China, but the quick ready-made breakfast is emerging.

The ad for Oat Milk shows Taiwanese singer Eddy Peng drinking (well, at least one end of the straw is in his mouth and the other in a carton of Oat Milk) striking a masculine pose. The text introduces him as a nanshen ‘male god’. Although Chinese women are just as attracted to males like this as their sisters in any other part of the world, such direct sexual remarks are rather un-Chinese. And I am not talking about post 1949 China. Han Chinese are usually rather reserved about this type of emotions.

Eddy

The text adds that male gods are busy chasing their ideals, but impeded by the hardship of work. I have translated the Chinese word ouxiang ‘icon’ here as ideal. It alludes that Peng is the male icon of many Chinese men, but also an object of worship for most women.

The Oat Milk slogan is: four special functions:

OatMilk

Overtime Miracle

Travel Mate

Slimming Success

Ideal Snack

Overtime has entered China already a while ago. China is one of the few nations the constitution of which includes the right to rest for all citizens. However, overtime now seems to be more normal than in many Western countries. What Yili seems to be suggesting is that its Oat Milk can be used to replace the meal that a proper employer would provide to staff members who agree to overtime. A carton of milk with chunks of oat floating in it, that you can consume while continuing to work, would until recently never be accepted. Now, the marketers of Yili seem to believe that this suggestion will no longer elicit protests.

The Chinese term lütu banlü has been coined after kafei banlü Coffee Mate. However, the latter is a powder that is much easier (and again quicker) to use than liquid coffee creamer. Oat Milk is a liquid that you are advised through this ad to carry with you while travelling. A quick bite/sip on the road. Once more, this suggested use is a replacement of the meal that Chinese travellers would usually not be willing to skip. Chinese travellers board a train heavily packed, not with clothes, but food and drinks to consume while chatting with their companions and enjoying the landscape.

Both functions seem to indicate that the pace of life is accelerating in China. One of the cultural rituals affect most strongly by this development is that of eating three warm meals a day.

The oat fibre in Oat Milk is said to help keeping your waist slim. That by itself would not be much more than an empty promise, but the picture of a man Eddy Peng makes it real. Drink Yili Oat Milk and look like Eddy Peng.

The word ‘snack’ in my translation of the final term refers to the Chinese concept of lingshi. It literally means ‘fragmentary food’, food that you can eat any time between meals. When you look at the scope of what is regarded as lingshi by Chinese it seems to be basically identical to xiuxian shipinleisure food’, about which I have devoted an entire post in this blog. Lingshi then seems to be a more colloquial term, while xiuxian shipin is used in a more commercial context. Why it is called ideal seems obvious: as you are snacking anyway, you might as well do it on healthy food. However, I wonder if people would be willing to pack a relatively heavy carton of beverage instead of that pack of melon seeds, preserved plums or other traditional snacks.

Regardless whether Yili’s Oat Milk will be a success or a failure, its ad already is making history.

So, what’s in it? Here is the ingredients list:

Fresh milk, water, crystal sugar, oat grains, oat meal, Vit. A, Vit. D3, iron (fe edta), zinc, food additives (microcrystalline cellulose, CMC, gellan gum, carrageenan, monoglyceride,sucrose ester, sodium bicarbonate), food flavour.

So it is not completely natural, but we would not have expected it to be to begin with.

In the course of 2018, Yili has launched another oat milk, this time flavoured with coconut, marketed under the Guliduo (‘Lots of Cereals’) brand. It is said be made of Vietnamese coconut, carefully selected milk and Australian oat.

You Yoghurt

Yili has hired the services of another Tainwanese star, Jack Chou, to advertise for one of its yoghurt ranges: You Yoghurt (you means ‘best’). Jack Chou is shown sitting in a director’s chair, shouting ‘I want You’. The scene is derived from the TV program Voice of China.

YiliYouAd

Note that the makers of this ad assume that the intended audience have a command of English sound enough to recognise the pun. The deeper reference to the old American military posters telling young American men that ‘Uncle Sam wants you’ will escape the attention of most of them, though.

Winter Olympics

Yili is one of the first Chinese food companies to respond to Beijing’s winning of the Winter Olympics in 2022. The company has launched the following commercial:

YiliOlymp

The text reads: ‘I have a seven-year appointment with the Olympic Games‘. And again we see the emerging individualism in this frame. The lonely icehockey player, instead of a team and the use of ‘I’ instead of ‘we’.

It is fascinating to see how a traditional state owned enterprise is able to reinvent itself to fit into the 21st Century. According to the Rabobank survey, Yili now ranks among the world’s 20 largest dairy companies.

Yoghurt icecream

Mengniu, China’s second largest dairy company, has recently launched one of China’s first yoghurt icecreams, marketed under the Dilan brand. The company started the promotion campaign with handing out samples for free to white collar workers in Beijing’s major commercial buildings. Dilan’s ads also indicate that the product is geared to that market segment: the individualist young professionals focused on their careers.

DailanYoghIce

Single-portion milk

 

Here we see a trend towards individualisation expressed in the packaging as well. Some Chinese hate milk, a few like it, and many drink a glass a day for its healthy image. If there is only one milk drinker in a household of, say, four, milk can easily spoil before finishing your 1 litre bottle or UHT pack. Xiajin (Ningxia) has launched a 243 ml bottle of milk to solve this problem in 2019. It is interesting to note that it is not one of the top dairy processors like Yili, Mengniu or Bright that first launch milk in individual portions, but Xiajin, that has been a good second tier dairy company for several decades.

 

Male vs Female

Yet another product of Yili is a lactic acid beverage branded Changyi that is marketed as being beneficial to the ‘male spirit’ (nanshen). Most of Yili’s new ads introduced above use male bodies as icons for position various dairy products. This product takes this trend one step further by directly referring to the male spirit.

Changyi

Mengniu has launched a sweetened milk, Tianxiaohai, that comes in separate female (pink) and male (blue) packagings

MnFemPack  MnMalePack

However, the ingredients are exactly the same; no gender-related formulation.

Fresh milk (>= 80%), sugar, additives (sucrose ester, monoglyceride, carrageenan), flavour

No sharing with others

Specialists in national culture all agree that Chinese culture is collectivist, placing the group’s interests above that of the individual. This trait of Chinese culture has left a huge mark on the Chinese practice of eating and drinking, in which sharing is a key concept. A Chinese meal is typically eaten around a round table with all dishes placed in the middle, for all participants to share. An now, in 2016, Yili launches this ad.

YiliWangpai

The ad is for Weikezi Chocolate Milk and the boy is saying: ‘Weikezi is delicious, no way I’m going to share it with you’. That statement sounds outrageously un-Chinese. So, is this a sign that young Chinese are becoming more individualist, or is this ad perhaps meant to provoke? I am sure it will make more than few Chinese eyebrows rise.

The ultimate individualisation: one person hot pot

Hot pot is a hot item in China. Nothing beats a group of people around a table throwing chunks of meat, vegetables, bean curd, mushrooms, or virtually any other fresh ingredient in a pot with boiling water and fishing them up when they are cooked. Hot pot is the ultimate communitarian food for a communitarian nation like the Chinese. Even a European fondue is hard to imagine to enjoy on your own, right? Well, be prepared to see this fact shattered by exactly those extremely communitarian Chinese. The past year has witnessed the launching of a number of one-person instant hot pots.

On the outside they look like a big instant noodle cups. Inside you will find a variety of ingredients, like the classic hot pot. Just heat it in the microwave, open it, and enjoy . . . on your own. Some brands are even packed in self-heating packagings. Squeezing the pack will create a chemical reaction that will heat up your hot pot, so you even lose the microwave. I have collated pictures of a couple of the instant hot pots currently on the market. How does it taste? Probably like most instant foods. Is it fun? Not more than eating instant noodles, or instant congee, certainly not as fun as enjoying hot pot with a group of friends or your relatives.

   

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.

 

 

Date (jujube) Processing in China – spotted in New Mexico

China is the kingdom of dates (jujubes or ziziphus jujuba). The national output was 5.62 million mt in 2017 up from 3.9 mln in 2005. The top region was Xijiang with 2.7 mln mt. They come in various varieties; so many that the New Mexico State University has started exploring them as alternatives for local jujubes.

The Chinese have known them for their medicinal properties, but have also been using them as snack food (leisure food) for ages. Now them are also processing dates into various food ingredients.

Jujube cake (Zaogao)

Along most the streets in Tianjin, you will find these little bakery shops. You don’t need to read Chinese to be able to spot one. Not only do you have the amazing smell coming from these small window bakeries. They are also kind enough to display these amazing breakfast cakes in the window. These cakes are made from dried jujubes and normally come 3 for RMB 10. After just one bite, you will find that they are not only sweet but also moist. These are a great alternative for someone in the mood for a light but filling breakfast. They can also be used for a snack between meals.

Zaogao

Medicinal properties

Dates are packed with nutrients: vitamins, minerals and various alkaloids. Chinese dates are also a great natural source of antioxidants. Jujube fruits assist very well in a healthy digestive system through its high fiber content, saponins and triterpenoids which prevent constipation, cramping and other gastrointestinal disorders. Chinese dates are said to support the strength of bones, muscles and teeth. They support the health of the nervous system and assist in alleviating stress, sleeping disorders and anxiety. The high antixodiant levels in Chinese dates take care for immunity, blood detoxification and a healthy skin.

A special type of dates with medicinal properties are grown in Leling (Shandong). The dates there belong to the ‘golden thread (jinsi)’ variety and are very rich in selenium and vitamin C. They also contain considerable amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron.

Image                      Image

Small fruits big business

Dates have become such an important product now, that they have recently played a leading role in a civil law suit. A Shanghai-based company, Dashanhe, produced and marketed dates with Hetian Tianzao (Khotan Heavenly Dates) printed on the packaging. Heavenly Dates, however, is a brand owned by a company in Xinjiang, Tianhai Oasis. This company produces a range of luxury date products (see picture), and sued Dashanhe for infringing on its brand. It won the suit. Dates have become big business in China.

Tianzao

 

The Kunlunshan Date Co. (also Xinjiang)’s Khotan Jade Dates (Hetian Yuzao) have been incorporated in ‘China 100 Best Agricultural Products’ in 2013. This company was founded on the basis of a military operated collective farm in 2005, and was reorganized into a limited company in 2012. Dates are indeed a conduit to success in China.

Here is a video demonstrating the processing of dates in China.

Innovative products

Innovation is the trend in the present day Chinese food industry. This innovation is taking place in a number of different directions, one of which is using traditional ingredients to produce foods and beverages that suit the lifestyle of modern hasty city dwellers, but still remind them of the traditional flavors, and retain the medicinal activities ascribed to them according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

An example of such a product using dates as ingredient is: date juice breakfast milk, a good example of one of the many formulated dairy drinks produced in China at the moment.

Here is a reference recipe

Image

Stabilizer RH6 is a branded compound consisting of: sucrose ester, monoglyceride, sodium alginate, CMC and potassium dihydrogen phosphate. Ajiao (or ejiao) is a Chinese medicinal substance obtained from donkey skin that is often used in combination with dates. The complete text of the production process indicates that low calorie sweeteners can be used to. It is an experimental recipe.

Fuyuan Food (Binzhou, Shandong), is also producing a date enriched with ejiao: Changsi brand Ejiao Royal Dates. Another, sweeter and stickier, version is sold under the Selective (Zhenxuan) brand (Zibo, Shandong).

The latter’s ingredients list is as follows:

Dates, sugar, maltose syrup, ejiao (0.5%), food additives (citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sodium pyrosulphate).

An interesting fusion between Chinese dates and Western food and beverage is: Manccio Jujube Coffee, produced by Manccio Co. (Xi’an, Shaanxi). Coffee is rapidly gaining popularity in China, but it still has a Western character. This product is therefore marketed as ‘China’s own coffee’. Its ingredients list is simple.

Date powder, instant coffee, microcrystal cellulose.

DateCoffee

Manccio cooperates with a coffee supplier in Malaysia. I haven’t been able to sample the product myself, but I will report on the taste as soon as I have had an opportunity.

Yimin Modern Farming (Jiaxian, Shaanxi) has developed a range of date wines and spirits.

Date-derived ingredients

Some Chinese companies have developed food ingredients from dates like date powder. Our database includes a recipe for a type of bread using this ingredient. Dates are also used in babao porridge, birds nest soup, and zongzi, introduced in another posts of this blog.

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) 2018 (Shanghai, March 22 – 24) exhibitor list includes the following date products:

Ingredient number
Concentrated juice 3
Powder 7
Jam 1
Particles 1

Eurasia Consult’s database of Chinese industrial recipes includes numerous products with dates as a main ingredient, both traditional and innovative, including products like: date cake, date pudding, date juice, etc.

Date sausage

As the world’s date country par excellence, Chinese food technologists like to develop new foods with date as one of the ingredients. A recent proposition I picked up is a date flavoured sausage. The meat is a mixture of chicken and pork (ratio: 3:7), with dates added as a paste, made by mixing water and dates (ratio: 1:1). The total ingredients list is as follows.

Chicken meat, pork, ice water, modified starch, protein powder, glucose, salt, sugar, compound phosphate, koji red colour, pork flavour, red date pulp, red date paste, white pepper powder, ethyl maltol.

Nestlé adapts to Chinese taste

Nestlé has deftly noted the Chinese liking for dates and date flavoured products. The company has launched a red date flavoured oatmeal under the Nesvita brand. The product contains 400 gr of date powder per 1000 gr of finished product.

Nesvita

Branded dates

The following table lists the top 10 branded date products of 2017. The brand logos are shown in the figure.

Rank Brand Region
1 Haoxiangni Henan
2 Hetian Yuzao Xinjiang
3 Ruoqiang Hongzao Xinjiang
4 Loulan Miyu Hubei
5 Sanzhisongshu Anhui
6 Loulan Hongzao Xinjiang
7 Qiangdu Xinjiang
8 Baicaowei Zhejiang
9 Liangzi Puzi Hubei
10 Tianjiaohong Shanxi

The number one: Haoxiangni Jujube Co Ltd.

Haoxiangni (litterally: ‘I think of you a lot’), based in Xinzheng, Henan province, is the only listed company in China’s date industry. It is combines R&D, manufacturing, and distribution of jujube series products. The company primarily offers various jujube products, including royal jujubes, crystal jujubes and fragrant jujubes, and others; jujube chips and donkey-hide gelatin jujube chips; preserved products comprising preserved jujubes, wild jujubes, and ejiao (donkey-hide gelatin, an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine TCM) jujubes; and dried jujube products, such as dried crystal jujubes and dried fragrant jujubes. It also provides jujube powders, which include original flavor jujube powders and high-calcium jujube powders; and honey products, such as jujube honey and acacia honey, as well as prepared and crisp jujube products, jujube beverages, and other series of products. The company was founded in 1992 and is based in Zhengzhou (Henan).

Jujube is not a rare food, but Haoxiangni made it into a luxury good, by selling gift boxes of jujube for several hundred yuan. The brand’s high-end image was its main attribute but now it is hard to maintain. After cooperating with Trout & Partners Ltd, a global consulting firm, in 2012, Haoxiangni started an overhaul of its brand image in 2013 by promoting low-price products for less than RMB 100.

According to Shi Jubin, the chairman of Haoxiangni, the company will focus on quality rather than number of franchisees by closing 600 of its 1819 stores, according to a statement released on the company’s website.

The government of Henan has included Haoxiangni in the provincial Immaterial Cultural Heritage in December 2014.

Haoxiangni suffered from the government’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. It saw a decrease in revenue, though small, in 2013. It was the first time it had seen a decline in revenue since being listed in 2011. The company filed a turnover of RMB 973 million for 2014, up 7.10%. 65% of that turnover was derived from the company’s dedicated outlets. Unfortunately, the first quarter of 2015 turned out particularly disappointing, with a drop in net profits of almost 47%. Insiders attribute this to the ongoing change of strategy from focusing on special shops to multiple channels. Haoxiangni is also in the midst of a construction project. These investments are eating up a considerable part of the profit, but the company is still regarded as healthy and promising. Haoxiangni is also broading the raw material of its products, like: lotus seeds and yin’er (silver fungus). The first quarter of 2017 saw a huge increase again with a turnover of RMB 1.2 bln, up 300%.

HaoxiangniStore

 

Haoxiangni has also sponsored a ‘China Date Culture Museum’ in its home town.

The government of Xinzheng has also adopted date growing a symbol of the local economy. The city’s website is laden with date flavour.

To counter the problems of relying to heavily on one product line, Haoxiangni launched a broad range of fruit snacks like dried fruits based on different kinds of fruits in 2018.

As part of the same diversification strategy, Haoxiangni has also launched a fruit nectar made from dates and hawthorn. The latter is a typical Chinese fruit, used in the famous North-China winter snack tanghulu.

Interesting new comer

A relatively new player in this market that is arousing nation wide interest with innovative products and promotion campaigns is Baiweicao (Bee & Cherry) (Hangzhou, Zhejiang). It is a general producer of nut and fruit-based snacks. One of its flagship products is a combination of those two: dates stuffed with walnut, marketed under the Baobaoguo (literally: Wrapped Fruits) brand name. It is packed in a series of boxes with drawings of various animals.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 259 companies producing date products.

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

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Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.