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.

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.

Chinese industrial food recipes

Producers of food ingredients will be very familiar with the general applications of their ingredients in foods and beverages. However, what do you know about their application in traditional Chinese foods, or novel foods based on traditional recipes? The transformation of the production processes and formulations of traditional Chinese foods into large scale commercial production is probably the most interesting challenge to suppliers of food ingredients worldwide.

Eurasia Consult has been active in the Chinese market for food ingredients since 1985, and in the course of our activities we have built up a substantial database of industrial recipes. This information can be used in market research, but also constitutes a mine of information for international suppliers of food ingredients to broaden the scope of existing ingredients and develop new products.

In this post, I am providing a few examples of the most promising application areas: novel foods, in particular those based on local products, traditional foods adapted for modern industrial production and ingredients based on traditional Chinese medicinal herbs.

The recipes are provided as found in the various sources. They are not ready to reproduce recipes, but provide insight in the perception of food formulation in China.

Novel

The Chinese love experimenting, as you can see on the Trends section of this blog. A consequence of this trial and error mentality for product innovation is that the route between idea and prototype is usually considerably shorter in China than in Europe. Novel products are often tested by throwing them on the market to see how consumers react.

Combined with other traits of Chinese culture, like playfulness, curiosity, etc., makes that more peculiar products are launched in China than in any other market in the world. Our favourite is still this one: ‘yoghurt to cure hangovers’. However, in this post I prefer to show a more common product.

Instant maize noodles

MaizeNoodles

Ingredient ratio(%)
Maize flour 75 – 90
Modified potato starch 10 – 25
Gluten powder 1 – 3
Monoglyceride ester 0.4 – 1
Xanthan 0.3 – 0.7

Traditional

In several earliers posts, I introduced the transformation of traditional Chinese foods into products manufactured at an economical scale. Chinese food designers have grown very apt in creating new variations adding extra value to such traditional products. A related trend is to create new foods from typical locally cultivated fruits, vegetables, etc. Local food specialties used to be a source of pride in China, but in the course of the ‘modernisation’ these traditions became rather suppressed.

Local governments have regained interest in these products recently and many of them are even applying a kind of DOC status for their typical local specialties, prohibiting manufacturers from other regions using that product name, like the term ‘champagne’ in France.

Improver for steamed bun (mantou) flour

MantouProd

Mantou used to be made at home, using a piece of the previous dough to start the fermentation process. Mantou have started to be produced on an industrial scale recently, which has created a demand for specialized flour improvers for this application, with enzymes as the main active ingredients.

Ingredient parts
Calcium stearoyl lactate 30-50
Monoglyceride 10-20
Vitamin C 6-10
Fungal alpha-amylase 0.6-1.2
Xylanase 2-3
Alkaline buffer 12.5-18.75

TCM

Food and medicine have never been as closely separated in China as in the Western tradition. Virtually all food and food ingredients are attributed certain medicinal activities in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Against this background, it is not so hard to imagine why the notion ‘functional food’ was accepted so quickly and smoothly in China: it was not really a novel concept for the Chinese. Actually, a number of fashionable functional foods in Europe, like Gingko, originate from Asia. As soon as ‘functional ingredients’ established themselves as a separate and lucrative category, medicine companies started to promote extracts from TCMs as food ingredients.

Chrysanthenum honeysuckle icecream

honeysuckle

Ingredient Dosage (%)
Whole milk powder 7
Crystal sugar 13
Margerine 10
Glutinous rice meal 3
Gelatin 0.3
CMC 0.3
Sucrose ester 0.05
Monoglycerine 0.1
Chrysanthemum extract 15
Honeysuckle extrac 5

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.