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)

Low calorie

Qinqin Food (Fujian) launched a new type of low calorie konjac fruit jelly in cooperation with Orihiro from Japan in July 2020. An interesting feature of the ad is that it does not uses children, but a young adult male to promote these products. This could be a subtle attempt to reposition fruit 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.

Healthier

Chinese manufacturers of fruit jelly are also trying to revive the product by designing healthier types. They experiment with adding more fresh fruit and vegetable juice, adding tradtional Chinese medicinal (TCM) herbs, tea extracts, etc. Using healthier types of thickeners, like konjac or xanthan, is also part of this research.

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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.

Zhangzhou: China’s second (first?) food capital

It has been a while, since I introduced Yantai (Shandong), China’s food industry capital. Somewhat later, I added a blog about the specialised food capitals. That list included Zhangzhou in Fujian province, as China’s canned food capital. However, the Zhangzhou food industry has developed so rapidly and broadly during the past few decades, that it should be regarded as China’s second food industry capital. In fact, the city already earned the title of “China’s famous food centre” from the China National Food Industry Association in 2011.

Determined to become a prestigious food production centre, Zhangzhou in Fujian Province is well-equipped to strengthen and enhance the structure and standards of its food industry. Zhangzhou continues its efforts to stimulate innovation and development in the food industry. The city’s ultimate aims are to establish a qualified and systematic food manufacturing centre with high standards and to strengthen its food-brand influence in the industry.

In 2013, there were 425 large-scale food manufacturing enterprises in Zhangzhou, accounting for 26.4% of the total numbers of significant enterprises from all industries. Food production values amounted to USD 12.08 bln, up 20.9% from the previous year. Exports of food and subsidiary agricultural products from Zhangzhou totalled USD 4.1 bln, up 47% and were responsible for 66% of Fujian Province’s total exports.

There are three main streams of revenue for Zhangzhou’s food industry, namely subsidiary agricultural food processing, food and wine manufacturing and beverage and tea production. Seafood, vegetables, oil and fertilizers are the main categories on the subsidiary agricultural food processing list, which generated a total production value of USD 7.8 bln in 2013 – an increase of 30%.

The total production value of food manufacturing, mainly canned food and biscuits, amounted to USD 3.3 bln, up 31.3%. The total beverage and tea production, with Oolong Tea and other beverages as best-sellers, had a value of USD 574.5 mln, an increase of 27.4%. The top 608 food companies in Zhangzhou generated a combined turnover of RMB 178.3 billion in the first 10 months of 2020; up 2.1%.

Speciality food

After years of development, Zhangzhou has established a firm foothold in the business of producing speciality food, such as canned fruits and vegetables, frozen vegetables and seafood and the processing of meat and preserved fruits. Of equal importance are food and food-related items such as biscuits, vegetable oil, fertilizers and tea.

Zhangzhou’s production of canned food occupies 60% of the province’s total and 11% of the nation’s total. In particular, exports of canned mushrooms represent more than 80% of China’s total. Zhangzhou also plays a significant role in many other categories. For example, it is the number one producer of canned asparagus, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots; the key production base of candied ginger, providing 80% of the European market’s supply; and the second largest exporter of processed seafood in the province.

Large-scale establishments

Among the city’s large-scale food enterprises, there are 190 (11.3% of the total) with the capacity to produce more than USD 16.1 mln worth of food. Zhangzhou’s high production capability is further proven by some impressive figures in 2012, which recorded 12 companies capable of producing more than USD 161 mln worth of food (6.3% of the total); 85 companies with a total production value of USD 32 – 161 mln (44.7%); and 48.9% of the total that could produce food with a value of USD 16 – 32 mln.

Prominent subsidiary agricultural food companies are Hongyi Grain and Oil Resources Co Ltd, Fujian Haikui Aquatic Products Group, Dabeinong Group, Fujian Dongya Aquatic Products Co Ltd and Fujian South China Sea Food Ltd.

Major food manufacturing enterprises include Fujian Zishan Group Co Ltd, China Lubao Group and Danco Group; while beverage and tea producers comprise Damin Foodstuff (Zhangzhou) Co. Ltd, Taisun Enterprise (Zhangzhou) Food Co Ltd and Tsingtao Brewery. There are two publicly listed food companies, namely the Fujian Haikui Aquatic Products Group and Tenfu Corporation. Ranli Food is a rapidly growing innovative producer of pastry, biscuits and bread.

There are 34 foreign-investment enterprises with total business values of USD 1.1 bln, representing 8% and 9.7% of the total of overseas enterprises and their value. Sixty-two companies are run by entrepreneurs from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan with values of USD 2.6bn, and 329 domestic companies have a total business value of USD 8.2bn.

Brands and awards

A dramatic increase in the number of food brands can be seen in Zhangzhou, a result of the city’s great enthusiasm for product innovation and the city government’s aggressive brand name strategy. By the end of 2013, there were 292 brands awarded “provincial-level status”. Among these, 25 are famous food names in China, one being “national-level status” and 266 are classified as the province’s “prestigious brands and products”. In 2013, seven new brands reached “national-level” and 26 new labels were awarded “provincial-level status”.

Zhangzhou’s ultimate aims are to establish a qualified and systematic food manufacturing centre with high standards and to strengthen its food-brand influence in the industry.

City by the sea

Zhangzhou is a renowned coastal city in Fujian Province with a surrounding sea area of 18,600 square kilometres and 112,300 hectares of shoal area. The 715-kilometre-long coastline starts in the north at the Jiulong River Estuary and continues down to the south to the Tielu Gang of Zhao’an County in Guangdong Province, featuring a coastal tortuous rate of 1:4.12. There are more than 20 natural harbours in the city, such as Xiamen Bay, Futan Bay, Jiuzhen Bay, Dongshan Bay and the Zhaoan Bayand Gongkou Gang. The city also has 232 islands with a 2,098-kilometre-long island shoreline, plus 36,000 hectares of usable sea area.

All of these favourable coastal landscapes have enabled Zhangzhou’s fishery industry to develop into a fully-fledged sector, producing 1.54 mln mt of seafood worth USD 2.9 bln, representing an economic value of USD 6 bln. There are more than 300 companies involved in seafood processing — producing 723,000 mt of products (25% of the province’s total), worth more than USD 2.5 bln.

Zhangzhou also exports 383,700 mt of seafood with a total value of USD 2.62 bln, registering an increase of 33.13% and 39.5% respectively. There are five enterprises that can produce seafood worth more than USD 161 mln, and 34 companies with a value of more than USD 16 mln. The city produces five of China’s most famous brands in addition to seven “provincial level labels” and 24 “prestigious” products.

The area has recently accelerated its pace of becoming a key producer of grouper fish. It is determined to accomplish the goal of being the “capital of grouper” and set a record for producing 15,000 mt of grouper, worth USD 241 mln, by 2015. The goal can only be achieved by means of continuously nurturing juvenile grouper, in addition to developing a healthy and standardised rearing system plus a commercialised strategy for fish farms.

For many years, Zhangzhou’s seafood has been exported to the US, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. Export markets are now expanding to countries and regions such as the EU, Russia and South America. In 2011, the city’s seafood products were exported to almost 80 countries and regions, with more than USD 100 mln worth of produce for sale to Taiwan, the US, Vietnam and Hong Kong. Presently, Zhangzhou, compared with other cities in the province, has gained the largest number of registered import permits to various countries and regions across the globe. For example, 45 companies are registered to be allowed to import seafood to Indonesia, 35 to Vietnam, 35 to Korea, 25 to the US, 11 to Russia and seven to the EU.

There are 97 large companies with annual production values of more than USD 805,000, and 21 of more than USD 16.1 mln. The number of export companies is increasing. There are 29 companies that export products worth more than USD 10 mln and seven companies at more than USD 50 mln. Among all, Fujian Dongshan Haikui Aquatic Products Group Co Ltd exports seafood products worth USD 200m, one of the top 10 companies in the city. Above all, there are 13 standardised fish farms in the city, three healthy breeding model farms, 20 non-hazardous production bases and 59 export centres.

Special regions

A number of sub-regions of the Zhangzhou Municipal Area have taken up the food image of Zhangzhou in their own regional marketing.

Longhai for leisure food

Within the larger Zhangzhou area there is a city called Longhai. While for Zhangzhou the food industry is regarded as a pillar of the regional economy, for Longhai it is the nr.1 industrial sector. The Municipality of Longhai has started profiling itself nationally as the ‘capital of leisure food‘ in 2019. The region is home for 605 food companies certified by the State Food and Drug Agency, covering a broad range of products. The Longhai government claims that about one third of the Zhangzhou food industry is concentrate in their region. Longhai is closer to the sea than the Zhangzhou municipal area.

Zhao’an green plum land

Zhangzhou’s Zhao’an County has been famous since ancient times as a production region of green plums. The region produces 105,000 mt p.a. of these fruits. The local government decided in 2017 to actively support the growing of plums for 5 years, investing RMB 15 mln each year. Plum exports generated over USD 50 mln in 2018. Plums are not only sold as primary produce, but also processed into various products. 38 of the major plum growing and processing companies of Zhao’an organised themselves into a Zhao’an Green Plum Industry Promotion Association in March 2019.

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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Medicine Food Same Source

This is a literal translation of the Chinese expression yao shi tong yuan, which indicates that in the traditional Chinese perception food and medicine are substances derived from the same raw materials. There is a strong link (overlap) between pharmaceuticals and food in traditional Chinese thinking about food, nutrition and preventing/curing disease.

The function of many medicinal plants is often referred to as restore (bu) in Chinese. Medicine brings the diseased body in balance again. The various basic flavours are also accredited medicinal functions.

One consequence of this view on food and medicine is the existence of medicinal restaurants in China. You can tell the cook about your ailments, and he will compose a meal with ingredients that address those problems. This is called yaoshan, ‘medicinal meal’, or shiliao, ‘cure through eating’, in Chinese, again a combination of medicine and food.

This part of the Chinese cultural heritage has a strong influence on Chinese policy making. A good example is the Chinese government’s strong attention to promoting public nutrition. While most Western governments believe that promoting fortified foods is misleading the public from a more healthy diet, the Chinese authorities are actively promoting fortified foods. See our special item about that topic.

If you think that the modernization and the increased influence of Western thinking in China will make this belief in the healing power of food disappear, you are very wrong. On the contrary, we have seen a number of foods fortified with traditional Chinese medicinal herbs appear on the market. An example is honey fortified with dangshen (radix codonopsis), a ginseng-like root. Ginseng itself is also more and more used as an ingredient in Chinese dishes.

The national authorities have issued a list of 87 TCM herbs that are allowed as food ingredients.

Nutritional beverages

TCM has especially inspired the development of a range of health drinks. I will mention a couple of the most representative here.

Stewed pear

Cansi’s (Nengshi) “stewed pear with rock sugar is positioned as an ancient folk recipe that has been spread for thousands of years throughout China”. Some of the claims the product makes are to “lubricate lungs” and to “relieve stress”, with pears playing an integral role in traditional Chinese medicine. The product also has TCM ingredients, such as honeysuckle and lily extract.

StewPear

Yam drink

Natural Source’s Wall Breaking Yam Juice earns it name from the technology it uses. With its yam juice processing, it’s claimed that superior technology can break the cell wall to release additional molecules for nutrition value. The result is that when consumed, it increases the absorption rate by 80%. Yam is one of many traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients that are being processed, combined with other flavours and packaged for modern times.

YamDrink

Biscuits and water for stomach problems

The Jiangzhong Pharmaceutical Group, that became famous for its successful TCM drug against stomach ailments due to indigestion, has launched a biscuit with extracts from the hericium erinaceus fungus in 2015. It is an age old ingredient in Chinese cuisine and an equally old raw material for TCM drugs against problems in the entire digestive tract.

Hougu

Early 2020, instant noodle maker Jinmailang launched a new type of bottled water that has been pre-boiled. It is marketed under the brand name Liangbaikai. This literally means ‘Cool Clear Boiled’ and has been derived from the Chinese expression ‘cool boiled water’, i.e. boiled water cooled down to an agreeable drinking temperature. According to TCM, such water is much better absorbed by the human body than tap water or other types of bottled water. The ad states that this water ‘is more suitable to the guts and stomachs of the Chinese’.

Military participation

Chinese military researchers are are also developing modern applications for traditional herbs. An interesting item we have spotted in this category is an ‘antiradiation biscuit’, a biscuit with the extracts of five Chinese medicinal ingredients. It has been developed for military use, but has also been made available to the general public. We have not yet found it on any supermarket shelf though.

The Wuhan College of Military Economy has develop a type of biscuit that can increase the body’s oxygen level and alleviate fatigue for 48 hours. The recipe includes a number of herbs from traditional Chinese medicine. Once more, this product has been developed for use by soldiers, but it will also have an interesting market in tourist destinations in high elevations, like Tibet. Problems caused by oxygen deficiency often spoils part of the fun among tourists in such regions.

Herbal coffee

One way for TCM to redefine itself to fit into the present age is to link up with a popular beverage like coffee. A time-honoured traditional Chinese medicine store Huqingyutang has opened a cafe named “HERBS EXPRESSO” to sell ‘coffee’ in Hangzhou (Zhejiang). Unlike regular coffee, which is extracted from coffee beans, the cafe’s ‘coffee’ is sourced from herbs and processed with a coffee machine. Actually, the ‘coffee’ is a coffee-flavoured herbal drink, the cafe’s manager said. Mixing fresh fruits, milk and cream, the taste of the new herbal drink is better than the traditional herbal soup. “By improving the taste of herbal drinks, we want to promote traditional Chinese medicine culture to the world,” the manager added.

HerbCoffee

Under the weather? Go to the pub!

Tongrentang Group, a renowned traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy, founded in 1669, has opened two fusion cafes that offer drinks and healthcare services in Beijing in 2020. The cafe provides different kinds of coffee drinks that are infused with herbs such as licorice, monk fruit and cinnamon. It also offers various teas that are mixed with Chinese wolfberry (goji) and grapefruit. The cafe also has an area where shoppers can buy featured products such as honey, goji, cubilose (bird’s nest) and ginseng. Tongrentang plans to open 50 flagship stores in major cities nationwide in the next five years to offer comprehensive healthcare consulting services. On top of that, it will open more than 3000 landmark cafes in major commercial areas.

Foreign interest

Multinationals have started to note this development as well. Lipton is marketing a tea on the Chinese market with extracts from Chrysanthemum, honeysuckle and lily. The tea is named: Qing heng cha, ‘clearing balance tea’.

BalanceTea

I will list the ingredients and add the various activities attributed to them according to the Chinese Materia Medica:

Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

  • Clear heat, relieve toxic fire – hot, painful swellings in the throat, breast, eyes; intestinal abscesses.
  • Expel wind-heat – fever, aversion to wind, sore throat, headache; also for summer-heat.
  • Clear damp heat from the lower jiao – dysentery, lin syndrome.

Chrysanthenum

  • Disperses wind, clears heat (bitter, cold) – headache, fever.
  • Clears liver and the eyes (sweet, cold) – wind-heat in the liver channel manifesting with red, painful, dry eyes or excessive tearing, or yin deficiency of the kidneys and liver with floaters, blurry vision, or dizziness.

Green tea

I wonder why Unilever has not yet started marketing this range (there or more such teas available on the Chinese market).

Meanwhile, the famous Pu’er tea from Yunnan is also marketed worldwide a slimming aid and a way to lower blood lipids.

Example of a foods that are ascribed medicinal functions according to TCM in this blog are: dates (jujubes) , lotus pods, sea cucumbers, and dried plums (huamei). Examples of foods enriched with medicinal ingredients introduced in this blog are: moon cakes and some military food.

TCM and COVID-19

Traditional Chinese Medicine has played an important role in the treatment of COVID-19 infections. Clinical treatment shows that several kinds of TCM used during the outbreak in China helped reduce illness in patients and improve the cure rate, according to Li Yu, director of the Department of Science and Technology, National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the next step, TCM treatment can be used for patients in the recovery stage. This is the stage in which TCM herbal compounds gradually change from pure medicines to health supplements.

TCM in animal feed

A new development is the use of selected TCM herbs as ingredients for animal feed. Practitioners in China have prescribed bitter blends of medicinal plants and herbs for centuries to ward off disease in humans. Now, farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock. They’re hoping to tap into the growing popularity of traditional medicine and health food in Chinese society. The expected results are not only delicious but healthy: lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses. A Guangxi farmer began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock several years ago. The pigs that he raises sell for more than double the price of ordinary pigs, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine. Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20% annually for the next several years.

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 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.