China and luncheon meat – a remarkable relationship

When I first lived in China as a student in 1975, I recall that I was surprised to find domestic canned luncheon meat in the shops. My mind apparently did not immediately associate luncheon meat with China. That assumption was ungrounded. China is the number one pork nation, with almost half of all pigs in the world living there. Pork is so common in China, that in the names of Chinese pork dishes it is usually simply referred to as rou ‘meat’. So, when you see xiangla rousi (Fragrant Spicy Meat Shreds) on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, you can be almost sure that the meat is pork. Some northern Chinese use the term darou (‘big meat’) for pork, hinting that it is the main type of meat in their diet. Also see my previous post on types of meat in China.

The non-association was probably based on the fact that luncheon meat was a regular item in our kitchen when I was young. It was (and still is) a convenient ingredient to meat up a dish when you are in a hurry. You can slice it or dice it, eat it raw, stir it through your almost finished pasta or fried rice, or whatever.

Growing demand

And that is exactly the reason why the consumption of luncheon meat has been increasing so rapidly in China during the past few years. The following table shows the consumption of from 2012 to 2018.

Year Consumption (mt)
2012 136,000
2013 155,000
2014 181,000
2015 213,000
2016 256,000
2017 298,000
2018 347,000

That is a continuous double-digit growth. However, when you look at the absolute figures and compare them with the size of the Chinese population, you don’t need a calculator to figure out that this growth rate can continue for quite a while. With the expansion of the modern life style with its much faster pace to second and third tier Chinese cities, the demand for convenient cooking ingredients will grow with it.

A quick and nutritious dish: egg-coated slices of luncheon meat

Opportunity for whom?

Does this mean that international suppliers of luncheon meat should see China as their major target for growth in the coming years? Well, yes and no. Yes, because the growth will take place; no, because you have to cope with fierce competition from domestic competitors. The following table shows the local production of luncheon meat for the same years.

Year Production (mt)
2012 476,000
2013 496,000
2014 522,000
2015 503,000
2016 539,000
2017 619,000
2018 701,000

Again, no calculator is needed to see that, even with the little dip in 2015, domestic production exceeds demand for each year. Moreover, the annual increase has fastened since 2016.

Export/import

China is exporting luncheon meat to various parts of the world. However, it has been surprisingly difficult to find statistics with similar details as for consumption and production. This is perhaps related to a number of quality issues that have occurred in various countries importing Chinese luncheon meat.

In spite of the sufficient domestic production, China is importing some luncheon meat as well. Hormel’s seminal Spam is obviously available, followed by Tulip from Denmark. There is also Betchina from Russia.

Top brands

 

Top domestic brands are Maling from Shanghai, Gulong from Xiamen and Yingjinqian from Guangzhou, in that order. It is not easy to categorise domestic products. Let’s try do so on the basis of ingredients. The following table lists the ingredients as indicated by the above three producers.

Brand Ingredients
Maling pork, water, corn starch, vegetable protein
Gulong pork, water, corn starch, salt
Yingjinqian meat, potable water, starch, vegetable protein

Gulong stands out in that it does not add protein from other sources than meat. Gulong is also the only product indicating salt as an ingredient. We can be sure that the other producers are also adding salt, but fail to mention it.

 

Military lunch – also for civilians

An interesting special category of Chinese luncheon meat are those produced by military manufacturers. I have already posted about military food in China and indicated that this industry is also selling to the general public for commercial reasons. The top product in this category is Lingxiang from Chongqing. Its ingredients as listed:

Pork, potable water, sugar, salt, MSG, spices

Sugar is added, probably for flavour, so are the MSG and spices. Perhaps soldiers need to be stimulated more with flavours than the general public. Another reason could be that civilians use luncheon meat as an ingredient, while soldiers will regular eat it straight from the can. In that case, they will appreciate that little extra flavour.

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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Black is beautiful – also in food

Black may be the colour of evil, even in Chinese culture, but for food it is a sign of superior nutrition

Black food has become a focus in the Chinese health food market in recent years. Black food refers to the natural melanin containing foods, whether derived from animals or plants. The natural melanin content causes a dark, dark purple, or dark brown colour. Some foods have a dark skin, while others are black at the end, inside or outside, such as black goji, black rice, black sesame seeds, black fungus, mushrooms, seaweed, kelp and laver. Manufactured black food, such as plum sauce, bean curd, soy sauce, cured egg etc., are meant to stimulate people’s appetite through their colour, but do not count as real black food.

The scope of what counts as black food is not strictly defined. The Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Biotechnology is one of the earliest domestic research institutes specialising in black food. It defines black food as having a relatively dark natural colour, rich in nutrition, and structurally acceptable to the human physiology as food. This definition excludes artificially black foods such as soy sauce.

Black foods contrast with food groups of other colours:

  • White food: bread, noodles, etc.; main nutrients: starch, sugar and other carbohydrates;
  • Red food: pork, beef, lamb, chicken and rabbit; main nutrients: protein, fat;
  • Green food: green vegetables and fruits; main nutrients: a variety of vitamins and cellulose;
  • Black food: black rice, black beans, turtle, black fungus, black mushrooms; main nutrients: protein, fat, amino acids, vitamins.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), black foods nourish the kidneys. They are rich in anti-oxidants and can therefore prevent several types of cancer and slow down aging. They strengthen the brain and lower blood pressure. The fact that shining black hair has always been regarded as a sign of physical health in China certainly also plays a role in the positive image of black foods in China.

Five Black Elements

The most conspicuous producers of black foods in China is the Five Black Elements (Heiwulei) Group in Guangxi. The company was founded in 1984 as the Nanfang Children’s Food Factory by Mr. Wei Qingwen. The name Heiwulei was adopted a decade later. The term itself originates from the Cultural Revolution, denoting five types of bad people (‘black categories’) in society: landlords, rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, rightists. Mr. Wei loved black sesame paste, which was his company’s first product. Now, the company is producing ‘Eight Black Treasures’ (Heibazhen): black rice, black beans, black fungus, black mulberry, black corn, black dates, black sesame and black seaweed (laver).

BlackTreasures

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.

Let’s meat in China – the indigenous classification of meat products

China has produced 32.549 mln mt of meat in 2017; up 5.1%.

As food and culture are so intertwined, proper market research in the food industry should take account of the ways the local culture affects the segment of the food industry that is being surveyed. A good example is the post on Leisure Food earlier in this blog.

In this post, I want to introduce the Chinese categorisation of meat products as used in the official publications about the domestic meat industry. I will list the main categories and for each category provide a concise description.

Sausages

Chinese sausages are basically the same as anywhere else. Not need to give a separate definition here. The overwhelming majority of Chinese sausages are made from pork and their Chineseness is mainly expressed by the use of seasoning and herbs.

Two popular types need to be mentioned separately:

Cantonese sausages

Cantonese sausages or la sausages are fermented sausages. The lactic acid produced during the fermentation gives the sausages a specific taste and functions as a natural preservative. Cantonese sausages are also relative hard, not unlike salami.

CantoneseSausage

A number of research institutes and universities all over China are engaged in R&D to improve the production process of traditional Chinese fermented sausages. Aspects involved include: preventing the oxidation of fat, protecting the colour, enhancing the flavour using enzymes and specially desinged aromas, and decreasing the sodium level.

To learn about a novel type of sausage, date sausages, see my post on dates in this blog.

Ham sausages

This is an umbrella term for a large variety of relatively small sausages that can be consumed as a snack. Chinese love to bring them on a trip, be it a one day tour to a local scenic spot, or a train trip of a couple of days. Although they count as a meat product, many ham sausages have a high starch content to make them soft enough for easy consumption on the road. For the same reason, they are usually relatively small and individually packed.

HamSausage

Ham

Ham in China is again more or less the same as ham elsewhere, made from the same part of the pig. One of my earlier posts is about one of China’s most famous types of ham: Jinhua Ham.

Cured meat

Cured meat products are typically more closely related to the local culture. People in different regions like different combinations of spices. In the case of China, soy sauce is a product often used in curing meat. Star aniseed is also a prominently present in many flavoured meat products from China.

Sauce pickled meat

This category has much in common with the previous one, the main difference being that the products in this category are boiled with spices, while cured meats are pickled and dried.

Cured meats are usually eaten a such, while sauce pickled products are dipped in a sauce when consumed.

Smoked and roasted meat

These products are what the name says: smoked or roasted meat, again usually first pickled.

Dried meat

A very old way to preserve meat is to air or sun dry it. A special product in this category is:

Shred meat/meat floss (rousong)

Marinated pork or beef is roasted over a slow fire until dry and then shredded. Shred beef is used to flavour white rice, rice porridge and my other relatively bland staple foods. An example of such a food is shred meat flavoured bread introduced in my blog on public nutrition in China.

Rousong

Meat floss comes in three varieties:

  • Dried meat floss: the standard product;
  • Short dried meat floss: the standard product, but with vegetable oil added and fried to small pellets of short fibres;
  • Dried meat powder: the standard product, but with vegetable oil and bean powder added and shaped into small pellets.

Prepared meat products

This is an umbrella term for meat prepared in various ways into semi-finished products. The consumer can transform them into ready to eat products with a minimum of effort.

Canned meat

Canned meat comes in two categories: hard cans (e.g. luncheon meat), what we are used to refer to as canned meat and soft cans, prepared meat packed in aluminum foil. The former has to be removed from the can for further preparation, while the latter can be prepared by boiling the pack in water.

SoftCan

Hamburger

The Western hamburger is undergoing interesting transformations in China to adapt better to the Chinese palate. It is easy to guess that McDonalds was the first channel through which the beef patty was introduced to China. Burger King followed later. Although very few Chinese dislike beef, when Chinese talk about ‘meat’ in general, without mentioning a particular animal, they are always referring to pork. Burger King is responding to by adding a pork-based hamburger to its product range in China. Their ad even uses the same pun that I included in the title of this post.

To still add some foreignness to the promotion, the text in the lower left corner says that the flavour is based on ‘German roast pork knuckle’. A genuine American European Chinese potpourri of flavours!

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.