Do novel foods reflect an individualisation trend in Chinese culture?

Chinese demographers estimate that China will have 92 mln singles in 2021

Yili Dairy, China’s top dairy brand (and second food brand in 2014), based in the capital of Inner Mongolia, Huhhot, has launched remarkable marketing campaigns for some of its popular products. Mengniu, located in the same city, has followed suit.

Oat milk

Breakfast milk is; another member of the expanding Chinese family of formulated dairy products. Yili has entered this market with Oat Milk.

The phenomenon breakfast milk is a product of the increasing of the pace of life in China. From the beginning of the Chinese nation to very recent times, three hot meals a day were sacred in China. Gobbling down a sandwich on your way to work, a familiar sight in my home region, would abhor any Chinese. That thing with the sandwich is still rare in China, but the quick ready-made breakfast is emerging.

The ad for Oat Milk shows Taiwanese singer Eddy Peng drinking (well, at least one end of the straw is in his mouth and the other in a carton of Oat Milk) striking a masculine pose. The text introduces him as a nanshen ‘male god’. Although Chinese women are just as attracted to males like this as their sisters in any other part of the world, such direct sexual remarks are rather un-Chinese. And I am not talking about post 1949 China. Han Chinese are usually rather reserved about this type of emotions.

Eddy

The text adds that male gods are busy chasing their ideals, but impeded by the hardship of work. I have translated the Chinese word ouxiang ‘icon’ here as ideal. It alludes that Peng is the male icon of many Chinese men, but also an object of worship for most women.

The Oat Milk slogan is: four special functions:

OatMilk

Overtime Miracle

Travel Mate

Slimming Success

Ideal Snack

Overtime has entered China already a while ago. China is one of the few nations the constitution of which includes the right to rest for all citizens. However, overtime now seems to be more normal than in many Western countries. What Yili seems to be suggesting is that its Oat Milk can be used to replace the meal that a proper employer would provide to staff members who agree to overtime. A carton of milk with chunks of oat floating in it, that you can consume while continuing to work, would until recently never be accepted. Now, the marketers of Yili seem to believe that this suggestion will no longer elicit protests.

The Chinese term lütu banlü has been coined after kafei banlü Coffee Mate. However, the latter is a powder that is much easier (and again quicker) to use than liquid coffee creamer. Oat Milk is a liquid that you are advised through this ad to carry with you while travelling. A quick bite/sip on the road. Once more, this suggested use is a replacement of the meal that Chinese travellers would usually not be willing to skip. Chinese travellers board a train heavily packed, not with clothes, but food and drinks to consume while chatting with their companions and enjoying the landscape.

Both functions seem to indicate that the pace of life is accelerating in China. One of the cultural rituals affect most strongly by this development is that of eating three warm meals a day.

The oat fibre in Oat Milk is said to help keeping your waist slim. That by itself would not be much more than an empty promise, but the picture of a man Eddy Peng makes it real. Drink Yili Oat Milk and look like Eddy Peng.

The word ‘snack’ in my translation of the final term refers to the Chinese concept of lingshi. It literally means ‘fragmentary food’, food that you can eat any time between meals. When you look at the scope of what is regarded as lingshi by Chinese it seems to be basically identical to xiuxian shipinleisure food’, about which I have devoted an entire post in this blog. Lingshi then seems to be a more colloquial term, while xiuxian shipin is used in a more commercial context. Why it is called ideal seems obvious: as you are snacking anyway, you might as well do it on healthy food. However, I wonder if people would be willing to pack a relatively heavy carton of beverage instead of that pack of melon seeds, preserved plums or other traditional snacks.

Regardless whether Yili’s Oat Milk will be a success or a failure, its ad already is making history.

So, what’s in it? Here is the ingredients list:

Fresh milk, water, crystal sugar, oat grains, oat meal, Vit. A, Vit. D3, iron (fe edta), zinc, food additives (microcrystalline cellulose, CMC, gellan gum, carrageenan, monoglyceride,sucrose ester, sodium bicarbonate), food flavour.

So it is not completely natural, but we would not have expected it to be to begin with.

In the course of 2018, Yili has launched another oat milk, this time flavoured with coconut, marketed under the Guliduo (‘Lots of Cereals’) brand. It is said be made of Vietnamese coconut, carefully selected milk and Australian oat.

You Yoghurt

Yili has hired the services of another Tainwanese star, Jack Chou, to advertise for one of its yoghurt ranges: You Yoghurt (you means ‘best’). Jack Chou is shown sitting in a director’s chair, shouting ‘I want You’. The scene is derived from the TV program Voice of China.

YiliYouAd

Note that the makers of this ad assume that the intended audience have a command of English sound enough to recognise the pun. The deeper reference to the old American military posters telling young American men that ‘Uncle Sam wants you’ will escape the attention of most of them, though.

Expressing love through French fries

Early 2020, McDonald’s contracted the young superstar Jackson Yee, another male young god, not as their icon, but as their ‘spokesperson (daiyanren)’ for its advertisements. Af first sight, it seemed like yet another good looking young guy trying to sell food. However, some of the ads are quite funny, although I’m not sure if they were designed to be funny. My favourite is the ad for Mickey D’s famous French fries, which includes the slogan: ‘every single fry tastes of love‘.

Winter Olympics

Yili is one of the first Chinese food companies to respond to Beijing’s winning of the Winter Olympics in 2022. The company has launched the following commercial:

YiliOlymp

The text reads: ‘I have a seven-year appointment with the Olympic Games‘. And again we see the emerging individualism in this frame. The lonely icehockey player, instead of a team and the use of ‘I’ instead of ‘we’.

It is fascinating to see how a traditional state owned enterprise is able to reinvent itself to fit into the 21st Century. According to the Rabobank survey, Yili now ranks among the world’s 20 largest dairy companies.

Yoghurt icecream

Mengniu, China’s second largest dairy company, has recently launched one of China’s first yoghurt icecreams, marketed under the Dilan brand. The company started the promotion campaign with handing out samples for free to white collar workers in Beijing’s major commercial buildings. Dilan’s ads also indicate that the product is geared to that market segment: the individualist young professionals focused on their careers.

DailanYoghIce

Ambrosial

Yili’s has launched another innovative marketing campaign for its latest range of formulated dairy products, marketed under the brand name Ambrosial, in early 2020. This product’s ads can be divided in three types. The first is linking the brand with famous athletes, singers or movie stars.

The second type tries to link the brand to several symbols of modern life.

The third is more abstract, linking the brand to a number of goods pointing at good taste and healthy living and a human arm grasping a bottle of Ambrosial.

Ingredients:

Fresh milk, crystal sugar, whey protein powder, addives (acetylated distarch phosphate, pectin, agar, diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono(di)glycerides, gellan, food flavours), lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus.

Single-portion milk

Here we see a trend towards individualisation expressed in the packaging as well. Some Chinese hate milk, a few like it, and many drink a glass a day for its healthy image. If there is only one milk drinker in a household of, say, four, milk can easily spoil before finishing your 1 litre bottle or UHT pack. Xiajin (Ningxia) has launched a 243 ml bottle of milk to solve this problem in 2019. It is interesting to note that it is not one of the top dairy processors like Yili, Mengniu or Bright that first launch milk in individual portions, but Xiajin, that has been a good second tier dairy company for several decades.

Tea for one

A group of friends chatting for hours around a table with not much more than a pot of tea and a tray of melon seeds is still a very common sight in China. However, the first brand of tea presented in small bags for a single cup has appeared on the market. The term ‘independent’ in ad for this Chicory and Gardenia Tea by Qiandaohu (Hangzhou, Zhejiang) leaves nothing to the imagination.

 

Male vs Female

Yet another product of Yili is a lactic acid beverage branded Changyi that is marketed as being beneficial to the ‘male spirit’ (nanshen). Most of Yili’s new ads introduced above use male bodies as icons for position various dairy products. This product takes this trend one step further by directly referring to the male spirit.

Changyi

Mengniu has launched a sweetened milk, Tianxiaohai, that comes in separate female (pink) and male (blue) packagings

MnFemPack  MnMalePack

However, the ingredients are exactly the same; no gender-related formulation.

Fresh milk (>= 80%), sugar, additives (sucrose ester, monoglyceride, carrageenan), flavour

Uni-president has launched a series of flavoured consisting of two flavours in 2020. The packaging of both includes the phrase ‘his & hers’. However, although it is not indicated which flavour is his and which hers, one pack is blue and the other red, consistent with the cross-cultural mainstream bias that ‘blue is for boys’ and ‘pink is for girls’.

No sharing with others

Specialists in national culture all agree that Chinese culture is collectivist, placing the group’s interests above that of the individual. This trait of Chinese culture has left a huge mark on the Chinese practice of eating and drinking, in which sharing is a key concept. A Chinese meal is typically eaten around a round table with all dishes placed in the middle, for all participants to share. An now, in 2016, Yili launches this ad.

YiliWangpai

The ad is for Weikezi Chocolate Milk and the boy is saying: ‘Weikezi is delicious, no way I’m going to share it with you’. That statement sounds outrageously un-Chinese. So, is this a sign that young Chinese are becoming more individualist, or is this ad perhaps meant to provoke? I am sure it will make more than few Chinese eyebrows rise.

The ultimate individualisation: one person hot pot

Hot pot is a hot item in China. Nothing beats a group of people around a table throwing chunks of meat, vegetables, bean curd, mushrooms, or virtually any other fresh ingredient in a pot with boiling water and fishing them up when they are cooked. Hot pot is the ultimate communitarian food for a communitarian nation like the Chinese. Even a European fondue is hard to imagine to enjoy on your own, right? Well, be prepared to see this fact shattered by exactly those extremely communitarian Chinese. The past year has witnessed the launching of a number of one-person instant hot pots.

On the outside they look like a big instant noodle cups. Inside you will find a variety of ingredients, like the classic hot pot. Just heat it in the microwave, open it, and enjoy . . . on your own. Some brands are even packed in self-heating packagings. Squeezing the pack will create a chemical reaction that will heat up your hot pot, so you even lose the microwave. I have collated pictures of a couple of the instant hot pots currently on the market. How does it taste? Probably like most instant foods. Is it fun? Not more than eating instant noodles, or instant congee, certainly not as fun as enjoying hot pot with a group of friends or your relatives.

   

Single dog noodles

Early 2018, entrepreneur Zeng Ruilu founded Single Dog, a company producing potato crisps and similar snacks in single portions, geared to the growing group single Chinese. This company launched a range of single portions instant noodles in 2019. Smart readers will say: ‘aren’t all instant noodles made for one person to eat?’. You are right, of course, but Single Noodles (Danshenliang) still caught on. While Chinese singles used to be single for specific reasons (like a shy nature), more and more Chinese remain single for a while by choice. Those people like to confirm this by snacking on food that is specially made for them.

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.

 

Are you Ready To Drink coffee in China?

Coffee has been reported on before in my post on Pu’er. People have been talking about the Chinese market for ready to drink coffee a lot since then. Apparently it is a topic that is on people’s minds, so I have bundled their remarks in this dedicated post.

An emerging coffee nation

China is gradually emerging as a coffee producing nation. The country’s current annual production is approximately 100,000 mt, 98% of which takes place in Yunnan, the home province of Pu’er, and the remaining the island province of Hainan.

By the end of 2010, China had 135 coffee processing companies, the geographic distribution of which is can be found in the following table.

Region companies
Shanghai 37
Guangdong 26
Yunnan 18
Beijing 17
Hainan 11
Other 26

This shows that the processing still mainly takes place in the most developed regions and not in the locations where the coffee is grown. However, the Pu’er post shows that the main multinational players have set up shop in Yunnan.

The Chinese have never acquired a habit of brewing coffee at home, which creates a fertile ground for two types of products: coffee shops where you can enjoy your favourite brew (see my post on that market), and Ready To Drink (RTD) coffee products, introduced in this post.

Applying the Chinese instant tea model to instant coffee

Between 2008 and 2013, instant tea has been the driving force in the Chinese tea market, increasing sales by USD 1.7 billion. To date, the popularity of instant tea is almost entirely a Chinese phenomenon, as China accounted for 92% of Asia-Pacific’s instant tea sales in 2013. Instant coffee on the other hand, is immensely popular throughout the region, with China accounting for just 15% of the overall market in 2013. As instant coffee shares many of the attributes that have driven the success of instant tea in China, namely the replication of foodservice options, flavour malleability, convenience, and a young consumer base, applying the innovative packaging of instant tea to coffee may spell further success for Asia’s already booming instant coffee market.

Instant tea in China is composed almost entirely of instant ‘milk teas’ that aim to replicate the sweet flavours of popular street stall/kiosk and café operators like Happy Lemon, Jack Hut, and ChaTime. Popular flavours include red bean and jasmine green, while some also include bobas (tapioca pearls found in bubble tea) for added texture. To make the beverage accessible through retail channels, manufacturers use single-serve packaging of on-the-go paper cups filled with a sealed pouch of instant tea and a straw.

The sweet flavour profile of these milk teas, and economical price tag compared to their on-trade equivalents, makes them particularly popular with younger Chinese consumers. The accessible format and price of instant tea enables young consumers to partake, albeit indirectly, in fashionable foodservice.

Aware of the influence of younger demographics, Chinese manufacturers including the Guangdong Strong and Zhejiang Xiangpiaopiao are deliberate in their marketing, positioning the products specifically to Chinese youth, through fun packaging, and celebrity endorsements. Xiangpiaopiao is awaiting approval for its IPO before the end of 2015.

ChineseRTDcoffee

Is China the future for instant coffee?

In the past decade, the instant coffee market has actually expanded at rates of 7 to 10% a year, according to the Global Coffee Report; the International Coffee Organization projects a 4% global volume growth between 2012 and 2017.

The country that historically drank about two cups of coffee per year per person is now the fourth-largest global market for ready to drink coffee in terms of volume. The reason? Convenience. A 2012 poll found that 70% of Chinese workers said they were overworked and more than 40% stated they had less leisure time than previous years. Plus, most new buyers are used to boiling water to make tea, often owning just a teapot and not the appliances needed to make a fresh pot of coffee. By 2017, the Chinese RTD coffee market is projected to increase by 129% in volume. A recent study estimates that the value of the Chinese RTD coffee market will be RMB 18.6 bln by 2020.

Like many food innovations, the origin of instant coffee has several claimants.

Instant coffee is tapping into a new market: tea drinkers. As of 2013 in Great Britain, tea bag sales dropped 17.3% while sales of Nescafé instant coffee went up in supermarkets by more than 6.3%. The country known for it’s tea and crumpets may be making a similar transition to China’s tea-drinking population.

Nestlé SA led the Chinese market with 70.8% share in 2017, followed by Suntory at 4.9%, Uni-President at 3.3%, and Starbucks at 3.1%. Coca-Cola re-entered the category with its Georgia brand. Its marketing has improved the brand image and the product’s visibility. Nestlé’s Nescafé, a strong category leader, hired Chinese actress Angela baby for TV advertisements, which boosted sales. Starbucks and Ting Hsin (PepsiCo’s local distributor and bottler) agreed to jointly produce and distribute RTD coffee. Suntory and Huiyuan also set up a joint venture to market RTD coffee and RTD tea. In 2015, Hui Yuan was the largest local player in off-trade volume sales terms.

In terms of flavor, the most popular one is latte, accounting for over 54% of off-trade volume sales in 2015.

Coffee as ingredient

Europeans still mainly think of coffee as a beverage made by infusing ground coffee beans with boiling water. The real coffee lovers drink it black, hot and bitter. Those who find that a little too intimidating can dilute it with milk. As most Chinese still have a problem with pure coffee, even with the heavily diluted americanos served by Starbucks or Costa Coffee, a number of coffee flavoured beverages have appeared on the Chinese market. The most recent one Maoyuan Coffee by Wahaha (Hangzhou, Zhejiang).

Multinationals follow suit

A recent development in this market is a strategic alliance between Starbucks and Tingyi. Tingyi, a leading food and beverage producer, has signed an agreement with  Starbucks to manufacture and distribute the latter’s RTD products on the Chinese mainland. Tingyi is a well-known supplier of instant noodles and biscuits. According to the agreement, Starbucks will help Tingyi, which makes the well-known Master Kong brand of instant noodles, with coffee expertise, brand development and future product innovation. Tingyi will manufacture and sell the Starbucks RTD portfolio in China, said a statement from Starbucks.

But it will take a lot more than a fancy Starbucks product to convince Americans to drink products like this one sold in China: Nestlé’s instant coffee with jelly.

Coffeebev

A multinational like Coca Cola cannot afford to miss out on the popularity of tea beverages in China. The company is marketing its RTD coffee brand Georgia in China.

Taiwan-based manufacturer of snack food, Want Want, had already started looking for divesting opportunities in the beverage industry, when it launched its own RTD coffee brand ‘Mr. Bond’ in 2018. When I am writing this (June 2018), it is still too early to judge the success of this product.

Costa has to follow suit

Costa Coffee could not afford to neglect this market and launched a range of ready-to-drink coffee beverages in China late March 2020.

Jingdong Top 5

China’s leading online store Jingdong keeps track of the top selling brands of any product type the platform has on offer. The following list are the 5 best selling ready to drink coffee brands in 2020

Rank Brand
1 Nestlé
2 Starbucks
3 Nongfu Spring
4 Coca Cola (Costa)
5 Chef Kong

Three of the top 5 are international brands, which indicates that it still is a relatively foreign product group. Nongfu Spring is China’s top bottled water brand, but has been expanding to other types of beverage in recent years. Chef Kong is the leading instant noodle brand, but has also diversified into beverages a few years ago.

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.

 

Instant noodles – possibly the world’s most resilient food

The instant noodle seems to be able to reposition itself every few years.

Instant noodles: winners in corona time

In the present times, when governments, companies and people around the globe are bearish about the economy, employment and even the timely supply of food, there are also winners. One big winner in China is the instant noodle. After this special corona vignette, you can read the regular post, which starts with the information that the Chinese instant noodle consumption has started rising again with a few percent annually, after a period of decline. That decline followed a much longer period of spectacular growth. Chinese consumers seem literally fed up with instant noodles and were eagerly looking for a larger variety of instant foods. The manufacturers fought back bravely, launching new types of instant noodles with a broader spectrum of flavours and more and fresher ingredients. Read the details below.

Then came the corona virus, changing the ways Chinese bought and consumed food. This gave an enormous boost to instant noodles. Check out the increase of the sales figures of the first 2 months of 2020 of the top producers, compared to the sales in the same period of 2019.

Company Increase (%)
Uni-President 297.14
Jinmailang 180.00
Chef Kong 150.54

China has produced 2,246,998.4 mt of instant noodles in the first 5 months of 2020; Henan was the largest region good for 19.54%.

The industry is eagerly taking this opportunity up and is now advertising its modernized types of noodles. I am selecting a few of the most representative aspects.

Great taste

Imperial quality

Broad range of flavours

The regular blog text

One of the most intriguing headlines I read in the Chinese food industry media when I started this blog is in the shape of a question: ‘have instant noodles past their peak?‘ The national output of instant noodles in 2014 was 10,256,640 mt, down 1.55% compared to 2013. Total sales of instant noodles in 2015 decreased with 6.3% and the turnover with 2.6%. The market saw an increase of 0.9% in 2016, positive for the first time since several years. The volume of 2017 increased with an additional 2.8%, but plummeted again in 2018. The value of the market was worth RMB 143.546 billion in the first half of 2019; up 7.75% again. The leading companies filed increasing turnovers for again for 2018 (see below). The market is extremely volatile, but there is a trend towards sanitation, in which the top players grow, while smaller companies disappear.

According to a survey conducted mid 2017, the largest market segment are consumer of the age group 23 – 28, followed by the section 29 – 35. In both groups, women consume significantly more than men.

The following table shows the development of the Chinese instant noodle output from 2010 thru 2018.

Year volume (mt)
2010 6,881,100
2011 8,275,900
2012 9,467,400
2013 10,307,600
2014 10,256,640
2015 10,178,000
2016 11,039,000
2017 11,032,000
2018 6,695,000

The market has been dominated by 4 main players for many years. The following tables shows their market shares from 2005 to 2017. An interesting detail is that the first 2 are Taiwan-based.

Whether instant noodles are on retreat is indeed a bold question. If there is one Chinese food product that has seemingly conquered the world in the sense that it is known and available in supermarkets on all continents it is instant noodles.

Yes, soy sauce was know in most Western countries long before the first pack of instant noodles appeared on the shelves of our supermarkets and yes, instant noodles are probably a Japanese invention. However, it was that huge neighbour of Japan that posed the single largest market for this convenience food and it was through the Chinese diaspora that it ended up in supermarkets in regions like Europe, North America, or Australia. The products on offer in Western shops are not only imported from Asia, but also partly produced by Western companies like Unilever’s Unox brand.

One theory says that the rise of instant noodles was partly caused by the mass movement of surplus rural labour to the Chinese cities. Instant noodles became the favourite food of the migrant workers. It was cheap, tasty and easy to prepare. Migrants have now accumulated enough wealth to move on to more healthy foods, causing a drop in instant noodle sales.

Another surprising factor influencing the decrease of instant noodle consumption in China is booming development of the high speed rail network. In a special post on train food in China, I have reported that railroad stations are important points of sales for instant noodles. However, with the shortening of the time between any two cities, the demand for instant noodles decreases proportionally. This comes on top of the rise in living standard, which makes Chinese rail travellers buy more fancy lunch boxes, on the expense of cheaper instant foods.

Market not endless

The market for instant noodles in China seemed to be growing endlessly. From a convenience snack it has become a regular meal for many white-collar workers. The growing spending power in the Chinese created an ever-larger number of new adaptors for this food. The following video gives an impression about the an instant noodles production line.

What we could notice during the past few years was that the manufacturers of instant noodles had to go into ever-larger lengths to create new flavours and textures, new additions like dried pieces of meat that could be rehydrated like the dried vegetables that were a more traditional ingredient of instant noodles. With hindsight, this can be regarded as a sign that the consumers were getting a little bored and needed to be stimulated again.

Against the background of the many food scandals of recent years, Chinese consumers have grown more conscious of food safety and healthy food in general. While instant noodles are not unhealthy, it is surely not healthy food. Major players are noticing that the need to rid their product of the ‘junk food’ image.

All top manufacturers have already switched from fried to boiled instant noodles, reducing the fat content, which also decreases the need for antioxidants.

Another recent trend is that several producers of instant noodles, even market leader Master Kong, have started diversifying, adding soft drinks or other foods (like biscuits) and beverages to their product range. Their strategists may have read the signs on the wall.

Master Kong, a brand of Taiwan-based Tingyi, is the absolute leader in this market. In 2013, the company operated 23% of all instant noodle production lines in China, was good for 46.6% of the national turnover of the industry and produced 34.5% of the national volume. Moreover, Master Kong was the fastest selling Chinese brand in 2013, for the second time in row. 91.4% of the respondents in the survey had been in contact with the brand. That even this company has stopped placing all its eggs in the instant noodle basket is telling. Tingyi is reporting a serious drop in net profit in 2014. The net profit of the 3rd quarter of 2014 was 13.85% lower than in the same period of 2013.

MasterKong

Tingyi, the owner of the Master Kong brand makes half the instant noodles eaten annually in China, yet revenue is stagnating as middle-class consumers abandon the salty, fatty cups for healthier options. Tingyi is on a mission to reinvent the humble noodle, pouring millions of dollars into customer education, food science, Olympic Games sponsorships and “Kung Fu Panda” movie shorts to convince diners the cheap meal can be part of their gastronomic aspirations. “We want to continue to grow up, and ‘premium up,’ with our Chinese consumers,” Richard Chen, Tingyi’s chief technology officer, said at the company’s Shanghai research centre. “In a couple of years, we will be able to reach the gold standard, which is when you can’t tell our noodles apart from what you would get in a noodle shop.”

The latest innovative move of Master Kong to keep its leading position is launching two sister varieties based on Western flavours: black and white pepper steak.

CKpepperBeef

Innovators at Tingyi once focused on practical advancements such as foldable forks and double-layer packaging so working-class Chinese could wolf down noodles on their commutes. Now, they work out of an RMB 500 mln research complex in Shanghai, with Tingyi tapping the nation’s top food-science university programs and partnering with Japanese companies such as Itochu Corp. to develop chemical-free flavorings and palm oil-free noodles. Master Kong’s turnover of 2018 was RMB 60.686 billion; up 2.94%. Its turnover for instant noodles was RMB 23.917 billion; up 5.73%.

Master Kong launched a range of power bars, marketed as breakfast replacers early 2020.

The company also divested into various beverages. Master Kong’s turnover in the first half of 2020 was RMB 32.934 billion; but only RMB 14.910 was derived from instant noodles.

Master Kong’s main competitor is another Taiwanese company: Uni-President. While Master Kong is still the leader, it is struggling with decreasing sales (-1.51% in the first half of 2014), while Uni-President is still showing, low, increasing sales (1.3%).

InstantNoodles

There could be some truth in the predictions of the author of the above-mentioned article. We need to wait and see how this market develops. For the time being it remains huge. UniPresidents’s turnover in China of 2018 was RMB 21.772 billion; up 4.6%. Its turnover for instant noodles was RMB 8.425 billion; up 5.7%.

Master Kong launched yet another new range of instant noodles in the summer of 2016; this time with a broader spectrum of dried vegetables and meats. These ‘healthier’ noodles are advertised using a famous actor.

ChefK_RichNoodles

We can also see an increase in regional variation in these production and sales statistics. The biggest decrease in output during the first half of 2014 was in Sichuan (-46.75%), and the largest increase in Guangxi (27.38). These figures are much higher than the slight decrease in the national output, so perhaps we are witnessing a regional shift in production, that is temporarily creating a downturn on the national level.

Chinese food scientists have also taken up the idea to enhance the nutritional image of instant noodles. One group is picking up the Chinese government’s idea to make potatoes the nation’s fourth staple foods and is developing a recipe and production process for instant noodles in which part of the wheat is replaced by potato. See my blog on potato processing for more details.

Baixiang Food Group (Zhengzhou, Henan) is developing more tasty products with better raw materials and production techniques. The company uses a special technique to freeze-dry noodles at -30 C to lock the nutrients in fresh noodles. When cooking, the noodles will be able to restore the original taste and texture after boiling. The company is increasing its investment in research and development by building more advanced labs, upgrading facilities, and attracting more talents. Baixiang has also established research institutes in South Korea and Japan.

A brand with a story: Nanjiecun

Wang Hongbin from Nanjie, a village in Henan province, was among the first in his village to travel overseas. In 1988, Wang, then in his 30s, had a chance to visit Japan, where he had his very first taste of instant noodles. A year after his return, a company in the nearby city of Pingdingshan bought two production lines for instant noodles, but their efforts to popularize the convenience food failed. Wang and some friends from Nanjie took over the factory and founded Nanjiecun Co. Targeting people in rural areas and students, the noodles were priced at RMB 0.5 per packet: cheap, but not very cheap in a country where many rural people still earned less than RMB 3 a day. Nevertheless, soon everyone was talking about Nanjie noodles. Nanjiecun’s star rose and the village was soon one of the wealthiest in the country. A full industrial cluster grew up around instant noodles, including print shops and seasoning and packaging factories. Production lines increased from two to 36. Annual capacity now can reach 120,000 packets per line. In 2017, the company sold noodles worth RMB 600 mln. About RMB 80 mln of that came from online sales. Nanjiecun has set up an R&D centre to develop new flavours. As the following picture shows, Nanjiecun is hooking on to the current craze for spicy food. Moreover, for those who can read Chinese: note that this flavour is linked to Beijing. The history of Yanjing Beer elsewhere in this blog shows that linking your product to the nation’s capital can be a winning strategy.

Food delivery offers more variety

The rise of food delivery has also played a role in the declining fortunes of the instant noodle industry. Food delivery gives consumers access to quick meals of more diversified tastes. Users of food delivery services reached 295 mln by the end of June 2017, a 41.6% increase from the end of 2016, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. Food delivery services have even reached high-speed trains (see the previous paragraphs). In mid-July 2017, 27 major railway stations across China launched a pilot on-demand food delivery service for high-speed trains passing through the stations.

Nissin severs ties with Jinmailang

Nissin has sold its interest in three joint-venture operations for RMB 450 mln to partner Jinmailang late 2015. Nissin said that in the future, the company would focus on expanding its business in China through local subsidiaries, without elaborating on exactly why the agreement had been ended. Insiders note that there is a growing preference for foreign brands of instant noodles, particularly in the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, which bodes well for Nissin.

Africa the new frontier?

However, wouldn’t it be an interesting thought that some time in the near future, the consumption of instant noodles in the Western countries could be higher than in China?

Or will the Asian manufacturers succeed in reviving this product with more, and in particular healthier, formulations?

Anyway, I just (Aug. 27, 2014) read an interesting news item on a Chinese food industry site, with an even more intriguing title than the one this blog starts with: ‘Chinese instant noodles are attacking Coca Cola in Africa‘. It starts by reporting that a cup of instant noodles (see the above illustration) is already replacing the traditional corn porridge Kenkey as the typical breakfast in urban Ghana. The reporter then conjectures that Chinese instant noodles are pushing Coca Cola from its position as the leading foreign food and beverage product in that country. Food for thought indeed.

Export to . . . Chinese tourists

A report released jointly on Sept 28 by Alibaba’s Alitrip and Internet finance platform Wacai showed once and for all that Chinese tourists have a true, unswerving love for instant noodles. The report noted that up to 31.29% of Chinese tourists have packed instant noodles in their luggage when going abroad, and 58.24% have bought instant noodles after reaching their outbound destinations. The report shows that 66.14% of tourists born in 1970s pack instant noodles in their luggage, whereas the number is reduced to 53.82% for those born in the 1980s, and 50.96% for babies of the 1990s.

Still a newcomer

Early September 2014, Taiwan-based Wantwant Group suddenly announced that it intends to enter the instant noodle market. Wantwant is a major producer of candy, flavoured dairy beverages, snacks and other leisure food, but so far completely unfamiliar with instant noodles. The only link I can see so far is that the above mentioned top players also originate from Taiwan. Master Kong and Uni-president have not yet reacted to Wantwant’s announcement.

High end experiments

Uni-president attempted to open up a new market segment for its instant noodles by launching a line priced at RMB 30 per cup early 2016. The experiment failed utterly, and the products were recalled within a month after launch.

Flavour maker Haoji (Sichuan) has relaunched its non-fried instant noodles in November 2016. This instant noodle product — branded 99 Love, or phonetically “long-lasting love” in Chinese — is marketed as a healthy product that is made primarily from wheat, corn, buckwheat and potato sourced from high-altitude unpolluted areas; it is steamed, as opposed to fried, during the manufacturing process. An earlier launch failed, because Chinese consumers were apparently not ready for such an innovative product.

Instant relief

However, instant noodles have will remain to be the absolute favourite for one application: quick relief in times of disasters. When parts of China are shut off from the rest of the country due to floods or earthquakes, it is always possible to get a supply of light-weight instant noodles to the disaster area to prevent people from starving.

Á½Î»Ð¡ÅóÓÑÔÚ×ö·½±ãÃæÔç²Í £¨ÕðºóµÚËÄÌ죬Ëæ×ÅͨÍùÕðÖÐÔÖÇøµÀ·µÄÊèͨ£¬¾»Ë®É豸Æô¶¯£¬Éú»îÔÚÁúͷɽÕò°²ÖõãµÄÊÜÔÖȺÖÚÉú»îÖð½¥×ßÈëÕý¹ì¡£ÍíÉÏ£¬ÀÏÈËÃÇÔÚÓªÕÊÇ°³éÆðÁ˺ò»ÈÝÒ×´Ó¼ÒÖÐÇÀ³öµÄÔÆÄÏÌØÉ«¡ª¡ªË®ÑÌͲ£»Ö¾Ô¸ÕßÃÇ°áÀ´ÁËÁ½Ì¨µçÊÓ£¬ÈºÖÚÃÇΧ×øÒ»ÍŹۿ´ÕâÔÖÇøÏà¹ØµÄÐÂÎÅ£»º¢×ÓÃǽèÀ´ÁË×ÔÐгµ£¬¸ç¸ç´ø×ŵܵÜÔÚË®ÇþÖпªÐĵØÓÎÍ棻¼¸¼ÒÈË´ÕÔÚÒ»Æð£¬ÓÃÔÖÇøÓÐÏÞµÄʳÎ¿ªÆôÁËÁÚ¼ÒÑç¡­¡­ËûÃÇÃ÷°×£¬Ê§È¥¼ÒÔ°ºó£¬ÕâÖÖÁÙʱµÄȺ¾ÓÉú»î»á³ÖÐøºÜ³¤Ò»¶Îʱ¼ä£¬µ«ÎÒÃÇ×ß½øËûÃÇÉú»îµÄÊÀ½ç£¬¿´µ½µÄÈ´ÊDZ¯Í´Ö®ºóµÄÀÖ¹Û£¬Éú»îÒÀÈ»»á¼ÌÐø£¬ÉúÃüÒÀÈ»ÔÚÑÓÐø£¡£© ¼ÇÕß Åí¹âÈð ȽÎÄ ÏÄÏéÖÞ ÉãÓ°±¨µÀ

Instant noodles will remain an important pillar in the Chinese food industry, but it is a mature market and the main players will be fighting fiercely for a few percent for some time to come.

Instant noodle restaurants – are you serious?

Chinese are masters in turning anything around and market it as something completely new. One entrepreneur has played this trick on instant noodles and opened a restaurant annex convenience store chain named Nonoodle (bufangbianmian in Chinese). You can purchase a wide range of instant noodles there and a few other snacks and drinks, but you can also eat your instant noodles in the dining space. The English name Nonoodle is not a literal translation. In Chinese, instant noodles are called fangbianmian, ‘convenient noodles’. So, bufangbianmian literally means ‘inconvenient noodles’. The entrepreneur is suggesting that cooking water, soaking the noodles with the condiments in water, and wait until the noodles are more or less ready to eat is actually not that convenient. Why not let a  ‘cook’ prepare the noodles of your choice for you. After the meal, you just go away, home or to another destination. The trick works, as long lines of young consumers can be seen at Nonoodles any time of the day. Amazing.

Corona virus facilitating the revival of instant noodles

When almost all urban Chinese were locked up inside their homes for a few weeks early 2020, it actually was a major boost for instant noodles. It is light, so easy to take home in large quantities. It is tasty and, in combination with some vegetables, chunks of meat, an egg, etc., can be a quite nutritious easy to prepare meal. However, the inventive Chinese invented a broad variety of dishes with instant noodles as the main ingredient. The following picture shows one example of such a novel dishe.

Eurasia Consult’s database includes 342 producers of instant noodles.

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.