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.

Advertisements

Fruit jelly in China – struggling to come back

From extremely popular to off the shelves – fruit jelly flirting with consumers to recoup their market

People with experience in Asia probably know the stuff: brightly coloured fruit flavoured jelly in small plastic cups. Chinese women, as well as their sisters from many other East Asian nations, cannot get enough of fruit jellies. You rip off the sealing foil and suck the entire jelly into your mouth. There, it will start melting instantly and you can enjoy (if fruit jelly is your thing) the feeling as if you have just taken a huge sip of fruit juice. The effect is partly caused by a mixture of texturisers, flavours and colourants, but who cares. Well, parents did, when a few children almost choked to death on the things.

You need to be careful when giving them to younger children. Even though they melt quickly in the oral cavity, if you suck with so much enthusiasm that the thing ends up in your windpipe, you are in trouble. A number of such incidents happened and Chinese retailers reacted in a very Chinese way: they took all fruit jellies from the shelves. That radical measure will certainly protect the children, but is a big blow to the producers. And the market is huge. It has grown into an RMB 25 billion industry, with about 300 serious manufacturers in China alone. They want their market back and who would dare to blame them.

The original thing

Before I look at how some manufacturers are trying to win back the market, let’s have a look at the original standard fruit jelly. The main ingredients of fruit jelly are:

fruit juice, carrageenan, konjac sodium alginate, water and sugar.

Production is relatively easy. Just mix the ingredients, fill it into the cups, close the cups, refrigerate to set and you can package and dispatch them.

Fruit jelly is obviously not a very nutritious food. However, it is still better than the average candy. It does not contain much fat and some of the texturisers used are dietary fibre that helps the bowel function.

Insiders distinguish four types of fruit jelly producers.

  1. The big players for whom fruit jelly is their core product; like market leader Xizhilang (22.1% market share in 2019);
  2. Candy makers that also produce fruit jelly; like Hsufuchi (introduced in another post in this blog about biscuits; 2.8% market share) or Want Want (introduced in various posts about beverages; 5.5% market share);
  3. Specialist food companies for which fruit jelly fits in the product line; like pudding maker Qiaomama (Clever Mummy) that specialises in pudding for children (see the Trends page of this blog).
  4. Local companies supplying their own regional market.

Innovation

Taiwan-based manufacturer of leisure food Want Want seems to be leading these efforts by launching a number of varieties that call for a slightly different way of consuming fruit jellies, thus reducing the risk of choking.

Soft pudding

Soft puddings do not contain trans-fat and have a protein content of more than 1.1 g/100g. They are chewier than the traditional fruit jellies and therefore invite to bite and chew on, rather than sucking them in at once.

Weiduoli

Li means ‘pellet’ and refers to the small chunks of fruit in the jelly. Want Want claims that Weiduoli contains at least 5% of fruit. However, the most innovative aspect of Weiduoli is that it comes in a soft bottle, so you can suck it in small sips, rather than swallowing an entire piece of fruit jelly.

Fruit flesh jelly

This is fruit jelly with a 20% – 25% fruit content. It is more like pieces of fruit held together by jelly. This as well invites to consume it by biting off small pieces and properly chew it. It also has more dietary fibre than the classic jellies, obviously. And if you are lucky, you may even hit some remaining traces of vitamins and minerals.

Yaogundong (Rock ‘n Roll Jelly)

I’m sure that most readers love this variety even before trying it. This product is sold in a cup resembling that used to sell ice cream. The cup contains a few jellies in the traditional packing and a layer of fruit flavoured powder. According to an advertising video that is entertaining even for readers who cannot understand the Chinese, you can consume these jellies in three ways:

  1. eat the jellies in the traditional way;
  2. take them out, roll them through the powder and eat them;
  3. Wet your finger, dip it in the powder and eat the powder;

This is a clever move. Children will be tempted to go for the second way, which will slow down their moves and diminish the risk of choking to a minimum. However, I wonder if this variety will survive. I will keep you posted.

With so much innovative energy from the competition, market leader Xizhilang is also introducing a floral type of fruit jelly to re-interest its patrons in their products. Perhaps this more elegant fancy look will make consumers less eager to suck the jelly up at once.

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.

What on earth are . . . youtiao?

It has been some time that I uploaded a ‘What on earth . . .’ post, so here is a new one. Youtiao literally means ‘oily stick’. That does not sound very appetizing, which would be inappropriate for a traditional food that virtually every Chinese likes. A rather long English rendition I have come across is ‘deep-fried bread stick’. This is more like a description than a translation. If I remember correctly, I have also once read ‘fritter’ as the translation for youtiao somewhere. That is certainly a convenient one, but our fritters are incomparable with youtiao. In line with the philosophy of this blog, let’s not translate this word then and get used to youtiao, as my regular readers should be used to mantou by now (in case you have forgotten this term, look it up using the convenient search function of this site).

Youtiao are deep-fried twists of dough. They are almost exclusively a breakfast food and are usually eaten with congee or with a bowl of steaming sweetened soy milk. The vendors get started at around 5 am and are still making them way past eleven, for all the late-risers. It’s so commonplace to see someone in pyjamas and flip-flops walking back home with a plastic bag filled with three or four youtiao for the family breakfast. The reason is that youtiao are delicious when then have just left the deep-fryer, but their texture quickly becomes rubbery with the lowering of the temperature. Making them at home is not a real option. It is a waste of oil and the oily fumes are not good for your walls, furniture, your clothes and anything else in your home. Better have a street vendor fry them for you in the open air.

Youtiao are fantastic when pulled fresh from the deep-fryer. The foot-long bread can be separated into two side-by-side pieces, with a crisp, almost waffle-like exterior, and a light and chewy interior. Like all fried things, the flavour depends entirely on the quality of oil being used and the freshness.

Youtiao are made from yeast dough, rolled flat, then cut into short narrow strips. Each strip is placed on top of a second, then pressed lightly together lengthways to make the join that can later be pulled apart after cooking. The baker then deftly twists and stretches them until they are the right length, and lays them side by side in the deep fryer until they are golden brown and nicely crisp.

                   

Here is a typical recipe for youtiao dough.

Ingredient dosage
wheat flour, sieved 500 g
yeast 1/2 teaspoon
sodium bicarbonate 1/4 teaspoon
water 1 1/4 cups
sugar, diluted in the water 1 teaspoon
salt 1/2 teaspoon

Special flour (improvers)

As I have reported in several posts on flour-based products, Chinese flour producers have developed specially formulated flours for youtiao. The motivation is not so much to encourage Chinese consumers to make their own youtiao at home, but to stimulate the industrial production of youtiao. The same applies to the development of flour improvers for youtiao. Several producers of flour improvers are offering improvers for youtiao, containing mixes of enzymes, improvers, starch, etc. A popular brand of youtiao flour is Beijing-based Guchuan.

This product lists the following ingredients:

Wheat flour, starch, sugar, salt, food additives (sodium bicarbonate, sodium pyrophosphate, calcium dihydrogenphosphate, calcium carbonate, citric acid)

An alternative for youtiao producers is to buy specially formulated flour improvers that can be added to plain flour. An example is that produced by Weihaili. You need to add 250 gr of Weihaili’s improver to 10 kgs of flour, together with 100 gr of salt and 6.5 litres of water.

The ingredients of Weihail are:

Sodium bicarbonate, suplhate, d-glucono-lactone, potassium tartrate, maize starch

Industrial production

The main challenge for industrial production is to retain the crispy texture of youtiao. Perhaps a workable solution would be a semi-finished youtiao that consumers can buy in their supermarket and heat in an oven or air-fryer.

An enthusiastic insider has attempted to calculate the maximum value of the youtiao market in 2019. With an urban population of 750 mln people, 65% of which consuming 1 youtiao every 10 days, paying RMB 2/youtiao, he arrived at an estimate of RMB 17.8 billion. Obviously, the market for any food item is big in China, but in this case it points at interesting perspectives for industrial producers.

There are several manufacturers of quick frozen classic youtiao. China’s leading producer of traditional snack food Sanquan, has developed a fennel flavoured youtiao. They are somewhat smaller than regular youtiao.

You can baked then off at home. Ingredients:

Wheat flour, water, vegetable oil, spring onions, fennel, salt, yeast, spices.

Whenever Sanquan comes up with a product, competitor Sinian can’t afford to lag behind. Sinian has launched a small type of youtiao that can be eaten with hot pot, hence the name Hot Pot Youtiao.

The ingredients listed are:

Flour, vegetable oil, water, salt . . .

That ‘. . .’ is not very nice to the consumers, but I will revert as soon as I have the entire ingredients list.

Youtiao are becoming a major growth product. Annual sales have increased from RMB 250 mln in 2015 to more than RMB 1 bln in 2018.

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.

Balancing the Five Flavours (and one more)

The ability to perfectly balance flavours is what separates a chef from a cook

If the goal of eating and drinking is to maintain and improve health, then the typical single most important element in food would be nutrition. The Chinese, however, focus on colour, fragrance, taste and form in food, looking for refinement in food vessels and elegance of the dining environment, demonstrating an artistic spirit. Hence, from the beginnings of documented history, the Chinese advocated the philosophy of ‘harmony between the five flavours (wuweitiaohe)’. It could be related to the core concept of Confucianism: ‘harmonious society (hexie shehui)’. The Chinese invented ways to adjust blended ingredients and spices for a wide variety of tastes. Revolving around the ‘five flavours, which are sourness, sweetness, bitterness, pungency and saltiness, dishes can evolve into more than hundreds of different flavours.

Saltiness xian

Of the ‘five flavours’, saltiness is the principal flavour. It is the simplest and simultaneously the most crucial. Salt is needed to heighten any flavour in foods. Without it, any delicacy cannot emerge in its full glory. But from a health perspective, salt should not be taken in excessive quantities. The most important salty ingredient is obviously salt. However, soy sauce is of almost equal importance as a salty seasoning in Chinese cuisine. Soy sauce is a good example of how a few other flavours can be deftly used to cut the raw edges from pure salt.

Some salty ingredients: salt, soy sauce – regular.

Sourness suan

Sourness is also an indispensable taste in foods, especially in the northern part of China, where water supply is heavy in minerals and strong in base. So, in order to induce better digestion of food, vinegar is often used in cooking. It can also arouse appetite. Sour taste can also neutralize fishy odour and greasiness. At banquets with strong grease and heavy meat dishes, sour dishes are usually added to neutralise the greasy mouthfeel (ni in Chinese). They come in many varieties. Not only are the sour tastes of plums, fruits and vinegar different from one another, just the different types of vinegar are distinguished by its production areas, different ingredients and different production techniques, thus causing quite drastic differences in taste. Usually, the northerners regard mature vinegar made in Shanxi as orthodox, whilst the people in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang area appraise the Zhenjiang-made rice vinegar as authentic. The most typical of all places eating vinegar is the province of Shanxi. Many families there are skilled at making vinegar from crops and fruits. Their everyday meals are even more dependent on vinegar. A very interesting thing is that in the Chinese language, the word “vinegar” is used to represent the feelings of jealousy between men and women. Slang, such as ‘eat vinegar(chi cu)’ for being jealous and ‘vinegar jar (cugangzi)’ for a jealous person, are universally understood in both the north and the south.

Some sour ingredients: bitter melon-fresh, vinegar, lemon, lime, dry wine, cranberry, wild cherries.

Pungency xin

Pungency is the most stimulating and complex of the ‘five flavours’. Sometimes Chinese use ‘pungent-hot (xinla)’ as one word. In actuality, pungency and hot (la) have major differences. Hot is sense of taste, stimulating the tongue, throat and nasal cavity. Instead, pungency is not just a sense of taste as it involves sense of smell as well. Pungency is mostly obtained from ginger, while hot and spicy usually denotes the use chili pepper or black pepper. Since hot peppers were a foreign product, there was no mentioning of ‘hot’ in ancient Chinese cooking, instead it was generalised as pungency. Ginger not only neutralizes rank taste and odour but can also bring out the great taste of fish and meats. So, ginger is a must-have when preparing fish and meat. There are also principles to using hot peppers. We should not merely seek for the degree of hotness but should rather use saltiness and natural essence of food as fundamentals, so that the hot and spicy taste comes out multi-staged, full of great aroma and not too dry. In addition, garlic, scallion, ginger and other spices can also kill bacteria, so are great for cold dishes with dressing.

Some pungent ingredients: ginger, black pepper, chili peppers, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, radish, cardamom.

Bitterness ku

Bitterness is rarely used alone in cooking but is a valuable asset. When making simmered or braised meats, adding tangerine or orange peel, clove, almond and other seasonings with a light bitter touch can rid the meat of unpleasant taste and smell, and awaken the original flavour of the food. Black foods usually also have bitter flavour notes. Traditional Chinese medicinal theories believe that bitterness is helpful for the stomach and produces saliva. Some people really enjoy bitter taste in foods, such as in the Sichuan-style ‘Strange Taste (guaiwei)’ type of foods, which have the bitter elements.

Some bitter ingredients: bitter melon-ripe, Seville orange, soy sauce-thin, garlic-raw, star anise, dry mustard, radicchio, mustard greens, endive, arugula.

Sweetness gan

Sweetness has the effect to cushion the effect of other basic flavours, whereas saltiness, sourness, pungency and bitterness are all too strong, they could be remedied by sweetness. When making dishes of other tastes, sugar can improve and embellish. However, using large amounts of sugar is not recommended, as too much sugar can be nauseous. Since many spices can produce a sweet flavour and they all taste quite different, much of the culinary world hails cane sugar as the orthodox sweetness.

Some sweet ingredients: sugar, honey, coconut, bell peppers, apples, grapes, raisons, hoisin sauce, cooking wine, garlic-cooked dates, onions-cooked, rice-cooked, bing cherries.

Freshness xian

What is not listed in the ‘five flavours’ but still holds an important status in the culinary world is the ‘freshness’, now better known as umami, factor. ‘Freshness’ is the most tempting flavour in food. Most foods all contain an ‘essence’ but it is often dormant, so making soup is often the way to awaken the taste. Chicken, pork, beef, fish and ribs can all be used as soup stock. When the unpleasant tastes and smell are eliminated during the soup-making process, the essential flavour is fully exposed by adding just a touch of salt. Stock not only can be enjoyed directly but can also be used to make other plain foods taste great. Such foods include shark’s fin, sea cucumber, bird’s nest, bean curd and gluten, which all must be cooked with essence soup to achieve its mouth-watering taste. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is an artificial essence. Its synthetic nature makes it impossible to compare to naturally made stock. So skilled chefs usually do not care for it.

Medicinal flavours

Five tastes in harmony, with flavour as the top priority, bringing direct pleasure to the tongue. At the same time, it is a good health-protecting and body-regulating method. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories state that pungency can regulate bodily fluids, blood and qi, and can be used to treat bone and muscle pain from coldness, kidney problems and so on. Sweetness can nourish, soothe, and improve emotional mood. Honey and red jujubes are also great tonic foods for those who have a weak and frail physique. Sour taste can cure diarrhoea and produce saliva to stop thirst. Sour vinegar can prevent colds, while eggs boiled in vinegar can stop coughing. All these are folk cures with adequate modern medical recognition. Bitterness can release heat in the body, improves vision and detoxify the body. Five tastes in harmony is an important factor to great health and long life. The picture shows that sour is linked to the liver, bitter to the heart, sweetness to the spleen, pungency to the lungs and saltiness to the kidneys.

Compound flavours

Chinese cuisine is apt in mixing and blending flavours. Spices and other seasoning ingredients can be combined in endless ways, but a small number of the them have become such favourites of Chinese chefs, that they have got used with various types of foods. An example introduced in an earlier post is yuxiang, ‘fish flavour’. In that post, I introduced the basic recipe and a number of variations developed by food technologists. This post adds another dimension to the understanding of such generic compounds: the mix of basic flavours: yuxiang is relatively hot, but the right combinations of saltiness, pungency, sourness and sweetness can bring out the delicacy of the peppers while containing excessive sharpness.

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.

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.

Eggs – Chinese like them salty

Eggs are one of the oldest ingredients of food in China, witness the 2800-year old eggs on exhibition in Nanjing.

ancientegg

Chinese cuisine includes many dishes with eggs as the main ingredient; fried tomatoes with eggs probably being the simplest as well as the best known. Don’t forget to add a little sugar en chopped garlic, just before turning of the heat.

Eggs can also be used as a minor ingredient to add bulk and texture to a variety of dishes, sometimes as a replacement for meat.

Fresh eggs have special meaning to the Chinese. Eggs are auspicious food, a symbol of fertility, of longevity, of new life. The birth of a child is celebrated with the delivery of hard-boiled eggs to friends and relatives, often dyed a brilliant red in honour of the occasion. Eggs are also a part of the bride’s dowry, sent by her family on the wedding day to her husband’s home as a sign of her potential fertility. They reciprocate with a gift of live chickens.

Birthdays are also marked with noodles and eggs all over China, and even as an ethnic Chinese growing up abroad, I remember my grandmother making a bowl of vermicelli for me with a large egg on top, dyed bright red, of course.

However, eggs are a perishable product, which is why many rural families still keep chickens so they have a steady supply. Chinese have developed a few ways to preserve their shelf life. I am introducing three of these in this post

Pidan – 1000-year eggs

Pidan

First, let’s set straight the myth hidden in that Western term. They have not lain forgotten for 1000 years, despite the name. Instead, pidan, as they are known in Chinese, are carefully cured for several weeks to several months so that the albumen solidifies into a dark, transparent, gel-like semisolid while the yolk hardens slightly on the outside but remains molten in the centre. There are strict culinary standards on what makes a pidan a gourmet experience.

Pidan are always eaten with condiments. They may be served with sweet slices of pink pickled ginger, doused in sesame oil and vinegar, or smothered in minced garlic or chopped cilantro leaves.

The most common raw ingredient for pidan is duck eggs, valued for the size of the yolks and the generosity of the egg white. However, chicken or quail eggs are also used, but more for novelty rather than need. A good century egg often has a snowflake pattern on the outside of the white, an indication of a well-cured egg. Its fearsome colour is the result of a chemical reaction with the curing mix usually wood ash, salt and rice husks mixed with clay or lime.

Pidan as export product

Pidan can even become a lucrative export product. The Shiqian region of Guizhou has been producing pidan for over 600 years. The local government has realised its potential value and supported modern industrial production of its traditional pidan in 1993. The state owned enterprise was dissolved in 1995, but its manager continued the production as a private entrepreneur. The company currently produces more than 10 mln eggs p.a.  Shiqian pidan were already exported to other Asian countries, in particular Malaysia, but more recently exports to the US and Canada, with their growing Chinese population, have also increased.

Xiandan – salty eggs

Xiandan

Another popular staple is the salted egg, a pure white delight that is as visually attractive as its cousin is not.

Eggs from either chicken or duck are carefully wiped clean with Chinese liquor and placed in bottles of saturated brine. After a month to several weeks, the whites would have thoroughly absorbed the salt, and the yolks hardened into little golden globes.

Salted eggs are most often boiled and then split and eaten straight from the shell. They are also used for cooking. The salted egg yolks are vital ingredients in many seasonal foods, including the rice dumplings eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival and the sweet moon cakes during Mid-Autumn festival.

Chayedan – tea eggs

Chayedan

Tea eggs are usually prepared at home. Brew a pot of tea. You can use any Chinese tea, but a dark tea like Pu’er will taste stronger than green tea. Place the tea and tea leaves in a pot, add a piece of star anise, a stick of cinnamon and either some cloves or cardamom. Add soy sauce and enough water for the liquid to come halfway up the pot.

Wash about 10 eggs and place them in the pot to boil. After 15 minutes, remove the eggs and gently tap them to crack the shells. Turn off the heat and return them to the infusion. You want a marbled effect. The flavours and colours improve if you also break the membranes so the tea infusion can penetrate. Then wait, to allow the eggs to soak in the tea sauce for a few hours, preferably overnight. You’ll be rewarded for your patience with the most flavourful hard-cooked eggs you have ever eaten.

You can reuse the tea sauce to cook more eggs when the first batch is finished, but remember to either add more tea or soy sauce to adjust the seasoning.

Free range eggs redefined

Innovation in food is one of the core themes of this blog. A Chinese organic farmer in Taiyuan (Shanxi) has redefined the concept of ‘natural’ eggs, better known in the Western world as ‘free range eggs’. His term is ‘original eggs (tujidan)’, which he defines as ‘eggs resulting from natural insemination of the hen by a cock’. This is even more humane that simply allowing chickens to walk around freely.

Tujidan

The yolk of the resulting eggs is brighter yellow than those of mass-produced eggs and are said to be lower in cholesterol. Strictly speaking, this is not really innovation, but simply going back to basics. Still, it is a development worth pointing out.

Dried eggs – a novel product

The general trend in the Chinese food industry towards more convenient products has also affect this sector. Recently, Master Shen Food (Anhui) launched a ready to eat egg product: dried eggs. This is a truly innovative product. It imitates traditional Chinese dried bean curd, but is made from eggs, making it a more nutritious product. The ingredients:

Egg, fermented soy sauce (includes caramel colour), sugar, salt, flavours, lemon, food additives (MSG, disodium 5’-ribonucleotide, sodium pyrophosphate, sodium tri-polyphosphate, red koji red, sodium d-isoascorbate)

The brand name is also partly imitation: Master Shen is obviously alluding to the Master Kong brand instant noodles.

Export

China exports some of its egg products as well. Hubei province was China’s top exporter of for the 10th consecutive year in 2019, generating an income of USD 90 mln.

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.

Is China the future for chocolate?

Chocolate is one the most appreciated gifts to friends in East Asia

The confectionery industry is a sweet line of business by itself, but it can be even sweeter in China, where market potential and a growing confectionery culture is leading to a new bonanza of sweets and chocolates.

Chocolate sales in China grew 58% from 2009-2013. They are expected to expand to USD 4.3 billion by 2019, rising nearly 60% from USD 2.7 billion in 2014, lifted by outstanding demand from the growing urban population, Bert Alfonso, president of Hershey International, forecast in a recent webcast at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference.

China has become such an important market for chocolate suppliers, that Barry Callebaut had chosen Shanghai as the place to introduce its inhouse-developed ruby chocolate to the world in September 2017. Barry has further opened a new Chocolate Academy in Beijing in 2019 – the company’s 22nd globally – to meet demand and better serve the Chinese market.

High-end market

Sales of China’s chocolate and confectionery boomed over the past five years after a handful of Western brands began entering the country in the 1980s. The maturing chocolate culture has prompted Chinese consumers to begin asking for a greater variety of premier products. China’s chocolate consumption is increasing 10% to 15% a year, as living standards rise and there is a growing acceptance of Western lifestyle.

So far, the top 20 chocolate makers have already presented themselves in the market. In a common supermarket in Shanghai, you can easily find over 70 brands of chocolate. Most of them are foreign brands. The big four (biggest four companies in China chocolate market: Dove, Ferrero, Cadbury and Leconte) have taken over 70% of the market. Of these, only Leconte is a local brand (Owned by COFCO, possibly Nestlé’s main international challenger). Among the three foreign brands, Dove alone has taken one-third of the market. Dove has charmed Chinese consumers by its special taste. Secondly, Dove chocolate has nice packaging with a neat wrap which leaves a deep impression of delicious and good quality in the consumers’ mind. In addition, Dove always produces new products with special packaging which propose meaningful designs. Chinese consumers care about the packaging of a product, because chocolate is also a good choice to buy as a present. How the chocolate appearance has been the most vital factor for the purchasing decision as a gift.

Foreign players go into lengths to ensure the quality of their products on the Chinese market. E.g., Hershey’s indicates on its packaging that it uses 100% imported milk.

HersheyImpMilk

Major potential

China’s current per capita chocolate consumption is very low at about 100 grams a person, compared with more than 10 kilograms in Europe. Even in Japan and South Korea, the figure is close to 2 kg. However, by 2016, 340 million Chinese will be middle class – more than the population of Western Europe – creating a huge market. Greater purchasing power – and the growth of large foreign retail chains – will boost consumption. This leaves plenty of room for business growth in China.

Milk chocolate is still the favourite flavour with Chinese consumers. However, in some developed regions of China, such as in the east, sophisticated customers are more likely to choose dark chocolate as it has an image of being healthier. This flavor’s share of retail value has more than quadrupled in five years to 34% in 2013. Of all the chocolate fillings, nuts are the most popular.

Selling Points of Chocolate

What are the factors to getting Chinese people buying chocolate ? A report shows that the No.1 factor Chinese consumers consider is the taste (30%), following by brand (18%) and price (7%).

  1. Taste

It’s true that in China, taste is the most important factor, but compared to western consumers, Chinese consumers don’t care about the taste nearly as much. A report shows 66% western consumers put taste as the most important factor, while only 30% of Chinese consumers think it’s the top factor.

  1. Brand

When chocolate came to China’s market, it was branded as an exotic food product which is an added extra value. And now the brand has become even more important. First of all, a big part of imported chocolates purchased in China are for gifts or ceremonial use like wedding candy.

For young Chinese men, chocolates, especially luxurious delicately packed chocolates have become a must to show their love to their girlfriends. During the Chinese Valentines’ Day this year, half of the top 10 items sold online were chocolates. That’s why imported chocolates are sold as high class food product.

Apart from their fancy look, imported chocolates also enjoys a fame of high class ingredients. With the growing concern for health and food safety, consumers are becoming more careful about the ingredients of chocolates and imported chocolate are trusted for containing more coco or milk.

  1. Price

When chocolate first appeared in China, the price for a box of imported chocolates was sky-high. Today, chocolate has become a common food product that most people can afford. But some chocolate brands are still famous for their high price such as Ferrero because Ferrero targets on high class chocolate market where price is an important tool to show its value.

A Chinese consumer can easily find reasons to buy a box of imported chocolate for its taste, brand and price. And what chocolate makers need to do is to produce nice chocolate, promote its brand and label with a suitable price.

Local players

Local competitors are still finding it hard to set up a premier brand recognition among Chinese consumers and adopted cheaper compounds to secure price competitiveness.

LeConte holds 6.7% market share and another local company, Golden Monkey (Shanghai), with 1.5% market, was acquired by Hershey in 2015 (after acquiring an 80% stake in the previous year). However, Hershey sold the Chinese subsidiary again in July 2018 to a local party Yuxiang Food Technology (Henan), a company co-founded by Xizang Cangying (literally: Tibet Goshawk) Investment Management Company and Henan-based Youshi Foods, which has become one of the biggest bakeries in central China.

LeConteMCGM-mchoc

Ingredients listed on the packaging of domestic chocolates:

  • LeConte milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, skimmed milk powder, lactose, food additives (soybean lecithin, food flavour), cocoa butter 35% min., cocoa solids 40% min., milk solids 26% min. The cocoa beans are imported from Ecuador.
  • Golden Monkey milk chocolate (cocoa butter alternatives):sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, cocoa powder, milk powder, whey powder, salt, food additives (lecithin, polyglycerol ricinoleic acid ester), food flavour.

On the other hand, the higher prices of global players also scare away Chinese customers, who do not have the purchasing power of their Western counterparts. There is still room for growth in second-tier cities dominated by these lower-end products. This applies particularly to China’s vast rural population. The challenge for domestic players is to develop affordable chocolate products that apply to the various local tastes and habits.

Perhaps foreign tourists can be charmed into buying chocolate replicas of the famous terra cotta soldiers from Xi’an.

chocolateWarriors

Russian chocolate making progress

Chinese imports of foods and beverages from Russia have been rising during the past few years and chocolate is one of the favourite categories. One Russian chocolate, Krokant, chocolate filled with toffee crunch, is hard on the way to become the most popular chocolate in China. Chinese refer to it as ‘Purple Candy’ due to its purple wrapper. Similar Russian products are also available.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 123 producers of chocolate products.

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.