The market for functional beverages in China seems rather redbullish

In view of the still strong influence of TCM on Chinese eating and drinking habits, China is a paradise for functional beverages

I already mentioned functional beverage in my general post on drinks, but the developments on the Chinese functional beverage scene have been so rapid lately, that it is time to dedicate a special post to this market. The interest in this type of drinks is not a surprise. TCM-based tonics have been an essential part of Chinese life almost since the beginning of Chinese culture. As has been introduced in the post on that topic, TCM has a much larger overlap with food than Western medicine. A core term in TCM is bu‘to supplement’. Most Chinese herbal medicines are in fact supplements, helping the human body to regain balance.

Wanglaoji

The very first functional beverage, obviously based on TCM, in China probably is Wanglaoji, also known by its Cantonese pronunciation: Wong lo kat. Wanglaoji is said to be a product that was invented by Wang Zebang (nicknamed Wang Ji ) from Heshan in Guangdong province in 1828. It withstood the turbulent modern history of China from the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the civil wars and the war with Japan and the foundation of the PRC and is currently sold as a herbal tea, with the ingredients being seven different kinds of Chinese herbal plants.

Water, sugar, mesona, dan hua (Apocynaceae species), Bu zha ye (Microcos paniculata Linn), chrysanthemum flowers, jin yin hua (Lonicera japonica Thunb.), Prunella vulgaris, and licorice.

Although these are all medicinal herbs, Wanglaoji is basically consumed as a soothing drink, not for curing a particular ailment. However, due to the high sugar content, it does provide quite a lot of energy. One sip a few years ago was enough for me. Wanglaoji has become extremely popular during the early 21stcentury, but has been plagued by a trademark dispute between the state owned Guandong-based producer and a Hong Kong-based company set up by a descendant of Wang Zebang who moved to Hong Kong after the founding of the PRC.

Red Bull

When Wanglaoji was gaining popularity, Red Bull had already been introduced in 1995. This foreign, though also Asian, energy drink was welcomed by many, but also greeted with suspicion by the authorities. Red Bull was ordered to indicate on its cans that the wonder liquid was ‘not suitable for young children and pregnant women’. Until that time, the only indigenous drink resembling a modern functional beverage was Jianlibao, an electrolyte drink launched in 1984, when it was made the official beverage of the Chinese participants of the LA Olympics.

It was a best-selling drink through the 1990s, but has since then suffered from mismanagement. Recently, Red Bull China has also become troubled by quarrels among its investors. You can read all about that on the Net. This strife seems to be a common ill of Wanglaoji, Jianlibao and Red Bull. Perhaps the managers involved are drinking too much of their own beverages. Still, Red Bull alone generated a turnover exceeding RMB 20 billion in 2018 in a market whose value is estimated at RMB 50 billion by insiders, making Red Bull still China’s number one functional beverage, by far.

With the growing spending power, combined with an increased interest in health and wellness, of Chinese consumers, several new functional drinks have been launched during the past 2 – 3 years: sport drinks, vitamin drinks, energy drinks, you name it. Not all of these new beverages have been able to reach a critical mass, but some of them seem to be there to stay, at least for a while. In this post, I will introduce a two more that seem to have good prospects.

Hi-Tiger

Dali Food Group has been mentioned in several earlier posts in this blog, but always for its bakery products: bread and biscuits. However, Dali is also the producer of Hi-Tiger energy drink. One look at the ad is sufficient to see that not much R&D had to spent on developing this product. The ingredients list confirms this impression.

Taurine, L-lysine, inosine, caffeine, vitamins B6 and B12, sugar, citric acid, sodium citrate, tartrazine.

Dali advertises heavily and is producing the drink various local plants to ensure a continuous supply. The brand sponsors the China Basketball Association.

Eastroc

Eastroc Beverages was established in Shenzhen, Guangdong, in 1987, as a state owned enterprise. It was privatised in 2003 as the Eastroc Group. It launched its energy drink in 1998 and once more the design of the bottle resembles that of Red Bull. The ingredients list is also getting a little boring.

Water, sugar, citric acid, flavours, caffeine, inositol, sodium benzoate, amaranth, nicotinic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, lysine, taurine.

Eastroc sponsored the Portuguese football team during the World Cup in Russia in 2018. It is also the Official Supplier of the 2018/2019 Chinese Super League (CSL).

These are the top energy drinks in China at the moment. The most salient feature of this market is that it is on one hand huge and on the other hand extremely boring, with the numbers two and three doing the utmost to imitate the leader. This leaves lucrative opportunities for the a genuinely innovative product; I would say: one based on TCM, or perhaps herbal traditions from other parts of the globe?

The other side: Dream Dream Water

Amidst this fierce battle between older and newer suppliers of energy drinks, candy maker Want Want launched its Dream Dream Water (Mengmengshui) in 2019. It is a herbal tea that claims to make you sleep better. Its main ingredients in GABA, that is sometimes taken for relieving anxiety and improving mood. The market, professionals and consumers have received the drink with mixed feelings. As soon as I have an opportunity to try it, I will add my personal comments here.

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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The Chinese sense of strawberries – candy among fruits

On this Valentine Day, it is appropriate to post something about what probably is one of the most romantic fruits: the strawberry. It’s hard to imagine why the apple is the “forbidden fruit” of lore, when the voluptuous and fragile strawberry is so much more tempting. Strawberries are temptingly red and sweet. The are an all time favourite flavour for ice cream, candy, cake, pie and other sweet treats.

According to analysts’ estimates, China has produced more than 4 mln mt of fresh strawberries in 2017. Moreover, higher production of fresh strawberries will back further development of the strawberry processing sector in the country. It is estimated that China’s frozen strawberry production will increase by 15% year-on-year to 150,000 mt.

The 7th International Strawberry Symposium was held in Beijing in 2012. The following video gives an impression.

As regards exports, China’s fresh strawberry exports are insignificant due to high shipping costs. The following table shows the Chinese exports of frozen strawberries during the past few years

Year exports (mt)
2014 73,854
2013 97,254
2012 135,560
2011 129,613
2010 112,390

These figures show a high fluctuation, as can be expected of a product relying on parameters that are hard to predict (market, climate, policies, etc.).

The same figures for imported frozen strawberries seem less volatile.

Year imports (mt)
2014 7,131
2013 8,076
2012 7,429
2011 5,511
2010 8,276

There seems to be no clear proportion between imports and exports.

The following video is less slick than the one shown above, but gives a direct insight in a Chinese diced strawberry plant.

Strawberry as ingredient

Strawberries are rarely used by the food and beverage industry as whole fruits. They are usually processed into powder, jam, pulp, etc. While such products are mainly supplied to industrial clients, Youlian Food (Longhai, Fujian) also markets its freeze dried strawberry powder in 50 gr packages to consumers that like to bake strawberry flavoured cakes.

Youlian

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) trade fair, March 23 – 25, 2016, included 6 exhibitors with strawberry-derived ingredients.

Ingredient number
Juice 3
Powder 2
Frozen 1

I have shown an example of a strawberry flavoured milk beverage in an earlier post. In this post, I will list a few other examples of strawberry flavoured foods and drinks. Also see the vinegar strawberries in my post on vinegar-based foods and beverages.

 

Meijing brand Strawberry sugar free candy

CandyTuoyuan

Meijing Food Co., Ltd., Shanghai

Ingredients:

strawberry powder, additives (liquid maltitol, citric acid, food flavour, acesulfame-K, ponceau 4R colour).

Although strawberry powder is used, both colour and flavour require enhancement with additives.

 

Laobute Strawberry Flaky Pastry

Laobute

Quanjia Food Co., Ltd., Beijing

Ingredients:

Crust: wheat flour, butter, food additives(maltitol, xylitol(2%)), eggs, skimmed milk powder.

Filling: wax gourd, additives (maltitol), strawberry pulp, veg oil, water.

The interesting aspect of this recipe is that wax gourd (donggua) is used to create a fruity mouth feel, which is apparently not accomplished by the strawberry pulp by itself.

 

Mengniu Strawberry Milk

MengniuStrMilk

Mengniu Dairy, Huhhot, Inner Mongolia

Ingredients:

water, fresh milk, coconut milk, crystal sugar, HFCS, strawberry cubes, food additives (CMC, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium citrate, aspartame, sodium cyclamate), food flavour

This is a good example of a Chinese formulated dairy drink in which milk is but one of the many ingredients. The brand name Zhen Guoli translates as ‘Real Strawberry Cubes’. That may be true, but it is a far cry from real milk.

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.