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 and 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 rose from RMB 18.592 in 2004 to RMB 86.393 billion in 2014.

NutsSeeds

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.

 

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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.