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.
- The big players for whom fruit jelly is their core product; like market leader Xizhilang (22.1% market share in 2019);
- 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);
- 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).
- Local companies supplying their own regional market.
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 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.
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)
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 use 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:
- eat the jellies in the traditional way;
- take them out, roll them through the powder and eat them;
- 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.
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.
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.