Pink is the colour of spring and hope for 2020 in China

Spring has arrived in a world that is still in the grip of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, the epidemic is clearly on its retreat in China and the nation’s food and beverage suppliers are celebrating this with an outburst of pink-coloured products. This blog does not require a lot of explanation; the pictures speak for themselves. Moreover, this post is a good overview of China’s most popular foods and drinks at this moment.

Domestic brands

Mengniu Dairy

Yili Dairy

Shipin Puzi (nuts, seeds, etc.)

Xiangpiaopiao, the top manufacturer of the immensely popular milk tea

Bee & Cheery (Baicaowei) (snacks, candy)

Rio (cocktails)

Hsufuchi (candy, biscuits)

International brands

A commendable number of international brands is participating in this pink spring campaign.

Starbucks

Nestlé

Dove

Glico

Oreo

Lay’s

Hoegaarden

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.

Protein drinks – the Chinese alternative for dairy

In previous blogs on dairy (traditional dairy, formulated dairy), I have pointed out that in spite of the rapid development of this industry in China, the taste of milk is still inhibiting for most Chinese. Especially the formulated products are meant to address this problem by creating a host of products that deliver the nutrition of milk, while disguising the creamy flavour that so many Chinese still find hard to get used to.

However, there is an alternative group of products that have a nutrition profile more or less like milk, but lack the problematic flavour, because it is plant based: protein drinks. While soy-based drinks have made considerable progress in Europe recently, as life style products, they have been popular in China for ages.

Traditional products like soybean milk have appeared in various modernised versions, and other protein drinks from almonds, peanuts, or coconuts have been added. Their popularity is evident from the large variety of products available in Chinese supermarkets. The total turnover for protein drinks in 2019 was RMB 53.690 bln, and is expected to rise with 2.7% per year until 2024.

The main technical problem to crack in these products is maintaining a proper emulsion. Protein gel is combined with an oil-in-water emulsion, which results in a non-heatstable liquid, which can only be countered with a mix of emulsifiers. Most recipes use sucrose ester, combined with monoglyceride, alginates, etc.

Let’s have a look at the most representative types, according to source.

Soybeans

Soybean milk is a traditional product in China. The earliest records of it date from the West Han period (2nd Cent. B.C.).

The process requires soybeans with a sufficient water content (10% – 14%). After the hulls have been removed, the beans are pressed and water is added. In the modern production process, a chelating agent like EDTA is added for stabilisation. The raw soy milk is cooked for about 10 minutes. After centrifuging, nutrients like fat, sugar, or vitamins and minerals (e.g. calcium to create the perfect alternative for milk) can be added. Flavours can be added too, either to strengthen the typical soy flavour, or adding new flavours, typically those of fruits.

China’s top producer of soybean milk is Weiwei, located in Xuzhou (Jiangsu). The company’s main product is instant soybean milk, which make it the most convenient of the protein beverages introduced in this blog. The other drinks are only available in liquid form.

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Soybean milk is so popular in China, that KFC has decided to add it to their breakfast choices in their Chinese outlets.

KFCsoy

Weiwei continued on this development by launching soybean milk in a bottle that resembles the classic Coca Cola bottle late 2017, even stronger suggesting that soybean milk can be consumed as a healthy alternative for soft drinks.

Another recent innovation by Weiwei is launching a range of canned soybean milk with various flavours, including coffee.

Almonds

Almond milk is not really an alternative for dairy, as milk is used as an ingredient. The recipe I consulted for this blog lists almonds and Chinese yam (shanyao) as the main ingredients and milk and honey as auxiliary ingredients.

The almonds are roasted, crushed and cooked with the milk and yam. The honey is added after the milk starts boiling.

Almond milk has been made popular in China by Lulu, a company based in Chengde (Hebei). The typical thin cans of Lulu have been on the market for more than two decades, as an alternative for milk, as well as a drink for those who cannot drink alcohol during a banquet. Lulu has accumulated a turnover of RMB 1.772 billion during the first 9 months of 2019; up 5.88%.

It is thicker than soybean milk and quite sweet. One Dutch friend called it ‘liquid marzipan’ after his first sip. With ups and downs, Lulu is still a serious player in this market.

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Lulu’s turnover started to slip in 2017 and the company is trying to recoup market share by launching special protein beverages for children, like Xiao Lulu (‘Littel Lulu’).

Coconuts

Coconut milk will not be a new product for most readers. It is a traditional product of Southeast Asia, and that is the region from which it gradually conquered China. Those with 1.5-2% fat content have been very popular in China for many years, and the market continues to grow. The top producer of coconut milk in China is Yedao (literally: ‘coconut island’), located in the tropical island province Hainan.

Coconut milk is pressed from the flesh of unripe coconuts. Only some water and sugar are added.

Like Lulu’s almond milk, Yedao’s canned coconut milk quickly appeared in Chinese restaurants as the drink for drivers and other people who were unable to drink alcohol, but wanted something with a more stimulating taste than water or chemical laden soft drinks.

CoconuM

Walnuts

Walnut milk is made from walnuts and water. Walnuts are ascribed a number of medicinal properties, which are prominent in the marketing stories of the various manufacturers. Unlike the protein drinks introduced above, there is not ‘leading player’ in this market yet. Still, a National Quality Standard (GB/T 31325-2014) has been promulgated for walnut milk in on Dec. 5, 2014.

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A top producer of walnut milk is Six Walnuts. It generated a net profit of RMB 7.459 billion in 2019.

An interesting development is that one Chinese coffee maker (Hogood) has launched a new type of coffee creamer made from walnut milk, marketed as Walnut 007.

Peanuts

Peanut milk, like the almond variety, is using the real thing as an ingredient. It is made from peanuts and milk, and even more than almond milk, peanut milk is more peanut-flavoured milk, like the ginger milk introduced in an earlier blog. It enriches the already nutritional milk with linoleic and arachidonic acid. And it covers the creamy taste of milk with a soft peanut flavour.

Yinlu in Xiamen (Fujian) is a major producer of peanut milk. The company is now under the control of Nestlé, which makes Nestlé the first foreign player in this market. Recently, Nestlé has announced that it is looking at updating its Yinlu peanut milk brand to satisfy consumers who prefer fewer additives and alternative ingredients.

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Yinlu has launched two products with multiple raw materials in 2017: red beans + peanuts and Job’s tears + peanuts.

The growing popularity of protein beverage has attracted the attention of the recently revived beverage brand Beibingyang. The company has launched a peanut drink of its own trying to create synergy between its well known brand name (including the polar bear logo) and the current interest in protein beverages.

Hickory

The latest addition to this growing range of beverage is the hickory protein drink from Tiannie Hickory Food Co., Ltd. (Guangyuan, Sichuan). The product has been launched in 2014. The raw materials are grown locally.

Tiannie

Sesame

Nanfang Food (Nanning, Guangxi) produces black Heiheiru brand sesame milk, a protein drink made from black sesame. Its ingredients list:

Water, black sesame, sugar, milk powder, starch, peanuts, sodium caseinate, sodium tri-polyphosphate, xanthan, CMC, carrageenan, monoglyceride, sucrose ester

This list shows that Heiheiru is not really a ‘sesame drink’, but a compound protein drink flavoured with black sesame. It partly owes its popularity to the colour black that is associated with a high anti-oxidant content.

Rice

Dashu Life Sciences (Jilin), in cooperation with Jiangnan University, has developed a new type of rice protein beverage under the Shangshanyuan (Sunshary) brand.

Oats

The oat drink Oatly has been introduced in China in the course of 2018 and is gaining popularity in coffee shops, e.g. Starbucks, as a vegetarian alternative for cow milk. Oatly’s introduction to China was aided by one of its Chinese investors: China Resources. Late 2019, Oatly had built up a presence in over 3400 outlets, including 2000 coffee shops and chains such as Pacific Coffee in China in first – and second-tier cities.

Yili Dairy (Huhhot, Inner Mongolia) has launched a range of oat milk drinks under the Zhixuan (‘vegetable choice’) brand in September 2020.

Hankou Factory Nr 2 (Wuhan) has launched a new drink combing oat milk and tea in 2020. In that way, the company was cashing in on two fads: protein beverages and milk tea.

Compounds

Compound protein beverages have also appeared, like the walnut peanut milk produced by Taigeili in Chengdu (Sichuan). This company is known for innovative products like rose vinegar.

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This market is getting so lucrative, that even an ingredient manufacturer like Jiangsu Howbetter (specialised in food texture and premix technology for dairy, beverage, bakery, and ice-cream) has launched a new plant-based beverage prototype made from peanut, walnut, almond, hazelnut, pine nut, cashew nut, pecan, Australian macadamia nuts, and Hawaiian macadamia nuts, which it showcased on the Food Ingredients China 2019 trade fair.

Not so natural

Although these drinks are all marketed as healthy beverages (not health beverages, that is another category in China), the ingredients listed on the label of Hengyi Yinxue walnut beverage includes an impressive number of additives:

Water, walnut kernels, crystal sugar, additives (xanthan, polyglycerin fatty acid ester, sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium pyrophosphate, sodium d-isoascorbate, sodium dihydrogen phosphate), food flavour

This way of listing additives is presecribed by Chinese law. Interestingly, flavours are not regarded as additives in this regulation and therefore not listed within the brackets.

 

Foreign interest

The Reignwood Group, the Chinese distributer of Red Bull, has acquired a 25% stake in Vita Coco, a US producer of coconut juice, in July 2014. In China, through Vita Coco’s own feet on the street along with the approximately 2000 employees of Red Bull China, the brand will be available about 130,000 stores soon.

Minutemaid has launched its own range of protein beverage in China mid 2017.

The dairy empire strikes back

China’s top dairy companies have adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them’ strategy. Mengniu and Yili, the top 2, have launched their own protein beverages recently. Yili announced its plans during a public meeting at the end of 2014. Mengniu has entered into a joint venture with US-based WhiteWave Foods Company, a leading consumer packaged food and beverage company in North America and Europe early 2013. The jv is marketing WhiteWave’s Silk brand protein drinks in China. This product is common in the US and is an affiliate of Alpro, a brand in Europe, though its positioning in China is quite unique. With its convergence of flavours, Silk’s positioning as a 100% natural solution, targeting those that are lactose intolerant, could spell success for Silk in China, especially as consumers become ever more sceptical regarding the origin, nutrition, safety and environmental impact of the food and beverages they buy.

SilkAlmond

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.

 

What on earth are . . . . moon cakes?

Moon cakes are probably the most important type of traditional Chinese pastry. However, the period in the year that they are available is short, only a few weeks.

Moon cakes are the typical treat you eat around the Mid Autumn Festival, the first full moon of the Autumn according the lunar calendar.

The bulk of a moon cake consists of the filling, wrapped in a crust of traditional Chinese pastry dough (relying on fat for the texture, rather than yeast or other rising agent). Moon cakes are roughly divided into Northern types and Southern types. The Northern moon cakes are harder and dryer, while the Southern types are softer and moist.

Fillings can be based on lotus paste, bean paste, fruit, nuts, etc. Southern moon cakes can also contain small pieces of ham or other meats and often have a duck egg in the centre. Moon cakes are rich, eating one in the morning can easily count as breakfast as well as lunch. Chinese often cut a moon cake in small pieces.

The moon cake production season starts early, sometimes two months prior to the actual festival. Many traditional bakeries, and even bakeries of Western pastries, usually stop manufacturing other products, directing all man power and resources to the production of moon cakes. About 280,000 mt of moon cakes were produced in China in 2013.

A market survey conducted in 2019 has shown that the main consumer group for moon cakes is the 30 – 39 years age bracket; good for 54% of the total consumption. The second group is the 20 – 29 years bracket; good for 22%. That year a total of 1.38 billion mooncakes were sold, generating a turnover of RMB 19.67 billion.

It is big business for suppliers of food ingredients as well. Traders in food ingredients also stock up large quantities of moon cake ingredients and place extensive advertisements in the local media.

Here is a video of producer of moon cake production machines. It is a commercial video, but still gives an interesting insight in the industrial production of moon cakes.

Signature moon cakes

Major hotels and restaurants  have also started noticing the potential of mooncakes as a novel way of reaching out to the market. They have asked their chefs to come up with innovative flavours using unconvential ingredients. Some even experiment with Western ingredients. Here is my pick from the Beijing 2014 season.

  • The mooncakes of the Imperial Palace Restaurant are mainly Chaozhou-style (a cuisine in Guangdong) pastry mooncakes, which are handmade by chefs with more than 10 years’ experience, and are delicious and fresh, with low levels of fat and sugar. The restaurant claims that their products have no additives. In addition to the traditional mooncakes, the restaurant has introduced fillings made from fruit and vegetables, such as cranberry and white gourd.
  • The Westin Beijing Financial Street has packages that mix Western and Chinese flavors such as goose liver, truffle pumpkins and Chinese chestnut.
  • The Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing has 42 fillings at different prices, including some special flavours such as rose with red bean paste. Diabetics can choose low-sugar pumpkin mooncakes, and those who want to keep fit can buy ones containing cereal germs.

Moon cakes can not escape the problems of modern industrial production. Consumers want the products look, feel and taste exactly as the traditional hand made cakes, leaving the manufacturers with the problem to translate that wish into a recipe.

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Formulation issues

Modern moon cake production has a number of problems related to ingredients:

Preservatives

With the increase in the period between production and consumption preservation has become a serious problem. Moon cakes are an ideal environment for the growth of molds, especially the moist Southern style moon cakes. My latest bite of mooncake (Jan. 1, 2015; Jiayuan brand, bean paste filled) contained potassium sorbate and sodium dehydro-acetate.

Until mid 2000, many manufacturers included a small pack of dimethyl fumarate (DMF) with their moon cakes. This preservatives slowly sublimates, preventing the growth of mold. Moreover, DMF did not have to be listed on the packaging as a preservative, because it did not count as an additive. However, the use of DMF for food was prohibited in May 2000. Alternative preservatives are still being tested by the manufacturers. Especially the suppliers of Natamycin are actively promoting their products for the treatment of moon cake surfaces.

A company in Guangdong has developed a special preservative for moon cakes. The longer the shelf life the higher the price is no longer the case with moon cakes. Rules have changed, so have perceptions. The norm now is, the shorter the shelf life the higher the price.

Antioxidants

Traditional Chinese pastry dough is high in fat, creating that typical crumbly texture. This calls for antioxidants to preserve the flavour of the pastry. Recently publications on antioxidants in moon cakes seem to converge on their preference for tea polyphenol as the best solution. It is a natural ingredient and apart from its antioxidant property, it also has a preservative activity and protects the colour of the pastry. An interesting ingredient in this respect is tea, which adds colour, flavour and mouthfeel and also functions as an antioxidant. See my special post on tea as food flavour.

Sweeteners

Moon cakes are supposed to be sweet. However, Chinese consumers are also getting more aware of the problems caused by excessive intake of sucrose. The past few years have seen experiments with alternative sweeteners. A number of manufacturers are already offering moon cakes sweetened with polyols, in particular maltitol and xylitol. Beijing based Daoxiangcun produces ‘maltitol moon cakes’. According to the information on the package, the pastry contains 15% and the filling even 43% maltitol.

Trends in typology

A survey held in 2019 still showed that traditional flavours were mainstream in the moon cake business.

Type share (%)
Traditional 78.4
Innovative 9.1
Healthy 2.3
Others 10.2

The term ‘healthy’ is not explained by the authors of the survey, but we can assume that these are mainly sugarfree moon cakes.

Branding

Most moon cakes are still produced on an ad hoc basis, and sold in bulk, without brand. However, a number of brands have started to emerge in recent years. The current top three brands are:

Huamei

Huamei

Produced by the Huamei Food Co., Ltd. In Dongguan (Guangdong), this is not only a noted brand, but also a ‘green food’, the Chinese designation for ecologically friendly foods, one grade below biological foods.

YuanlangRonghua

Yuanlang Ronghua

The producer of this brand, Ronghua Pastry Co., Ltd., is also located in Dongguan, but the mother company is from Hong Kong. This company has been engaged in a fierce legal battle with an entrepreneur from Shandong about the use of the Wingway (the Cantonese pronunciation of Ronghua) for many years. This is yet another proof of the economic importance of moon cakes.

Anqi

Anqi

Anqi Food Co., Ltd. is yet another Guangdong-based company, located in Shenzhen. It was the first to introduce ‘iced moon cakes’ in the Mainland. These are white moon cakes, with a skin made from glutinous rice.

The top 5 moon cake brand in online sales in 2019 were:

Brand  share (%)
Daoxiangcun 22.07
Huamei 11.77
Wufangzhai 7.58
Meixin 4.91
Gongdelin 2.51

Phantasy shapes

The only limits of what is possible with moon cakes are the limits of ones imagination. Any more or less round shape from dough with any kind of filling can be called a moon cake. The photo of this section shows a bear-shaped and elephant-shaped moon cake. The bear cake has a coffee flavour, while the elephant cake is scented with orange.

MooncakeInnov

Trend 2015 1: medicinal moon cakes

A trend in 2015 is to enrich moon cakes with traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients, like: ginseng, goji berries, or cordyceps (a fungus infected caterpillar). The resulting pastry can then be attributed medicinal functions and, hopefully, be sold at a premium price. This initiative has received mixed reactions from the market. However, whether it catches on or not, it has at least added new colours to the existing range of moon cakes, as shown by this picture.

MedMooncake

Eurasia Consult’s databases include a large number of recipes for generic and innovative moon cakes; and our database of the Chinese food industry includes 121 producers of moon cakes.

Weird, weirder, weirdest

It is not always easy to come with yet another novel type of mooncake. Here are some of the weirder examples launched in 2015.

  1. Chocolate mooncake with spicy beef filling

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Ten years ago, a Chinese girl was reported to say to a boy, “It’s impossible for us to be together, like chocolate will never be with beef.” Today, it seems that everything is possible.

  1. Sour and spicy mooncake

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The sourness of the mooncake filling is from pickled vegetables and hawthorns. The spiciness is made from a chilli sauce resembling to the famous brand Lao Gan Ma.

  1. Fermented bean curd mooncake

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This is a variant of a kind of pastry made with fermented bean curd popular in Chaoshan, Guangdong province, similar to furu, also reported in an earlier post. The pastry is usually used as a sacrificial offering by local people on the first day and the middle day of each month.

  1. Mooncake with fillings of cream, truffle and goose liver

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Expensive is still fancy in China. The “Louis Vuttion” of mooncakes is made with expensive ingredients of truffle and goose liver. This luxurious mooncake definitely deserves a bite.

6. Mooncake with leek egg filling

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Scrambled egg is a popular filling for Chinese Jiaozi (dumpling). But for the first time, scrambled egg is being used for the traditional Mid-Autumn day dessert.

  1. “Shiren” mooncake

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“Shiren” mooncakes have 10 kinds of nuts, doubling the traditional “Wuren” mooncake with 5 kinds of nuts. It’s four to six times larger than traditional mooncakes, and implies best wishes of “perfect in every respect”.

  1. Mooncake stuffed with braised pork and preserved vegetable in soya sauce

MC15-04

Braised pork with preserved vegetable in soya sauce, or “meicai kourou” is a famous Chinese dish. The one made this special filling for mooncake must be a super fan of this dish. Like the scrambled egg moon cake, this variety is in line with another innovative type of dumpling reported in another post of this blog: dumplings with entire dishes as filling.

  1. Bamboo charcoal mooncake

MC15-03

This mooncake is made by putting bamboo charcoal powder into the mooncake when baking. It’s said to have the function of absorbing toxins inside our bodies. As reported earlier, the distinction between food and medicine is much smaller in China than in the West.

  1. Instant noodle mooncake

MC15-02

Putting instant noodles into the traditional mooncake will surely give you a special experience. The mooncakes are also marked with Chinese characters, “Diao Si”, which means “underprivileged losers” in a self-mocking way. Perhaps this refers to the recent decline in the instant noodle market in China.

  1. Mooncakes with bean-taste filling fried with tomatoes

MC15-01

Moon cakes as ingredients. The canteen of Civil Aviation University of China had put forward a dish which fried mooncake pieces stuffed with sweet bean taste and tomatoes before decorating them with caraway. The dish became a hit on the Internet and is called the weirdest mooncakes.

No one wants to miss the boat

icecream moon cakes

Virtually any food-related chain in China is offering its own specialty in the shape of moon cakes. Häagen-Dazs is also joining in with ice cream moon cakes.

IcecreamMooncakes

Mooncakes with an academic flavour

Universities around Shanghai have begun competing to offer mooncakes with the most distinctive characteristics in 2016. In addition to traditional fillings such as egg yolk, lotus seed paste, “five kernel,” red bean paste and fresh meat, a variety of new flavors have been introduced, including tiramisu, durian, coffee, ham and beef, purple sweet potato and mushroom. These new flavors offer a real treat for teachers and students alike.

fudanmooncake

Trend in 2018: small and special ingredients

More and more food companies whose products do not include pastry are launching their own specialty mooncakes this year. A prominent example is nut processor Three Squirrels with a range of 6 different flavours. The most spectacular one has a liquid caramel core as shown in the picture.

Daoxiangcun (Beijing) is a pastry maker, but has launched a series of relatively small colourful mooncakes based on a famous animation character Huangdoujun.

Qingxintang is a Guangdong-based producer of a wide range of traditional Chinese snacks. This year, the company is luring the mooncake crowd with a series of 6 mini-mooncakes that are promoted as vegetarian (many Guangdong style mooncakes contain pork or duck egg) made from selected flowers, cereals, seeds and teas.

Surprises of 2020: cheese-filled mooncake

Zhenzhang Food Co., Ltd. (Xi’an, Shaanxi) has launched a cheese-filled mooncake under its Yupinxuan brand in September 2020. It uses Tatura cream cheese as an ingredient. Although the cheese is imported from Australia, the mooncakes are marketed as ‘French style cheese mooncakes’, obviously because French sounds fancier than Australian.

Also in 2020, newcomer Bee & Cheery has invested in buying the rights to launch a series of Doraemon moon cakes in sweet pumpkin and green bean flavours.

Leading dairy company Yili has launched a limited edition of its Ambrosial drinking yoghurt with moon cake flavour. I wonder it this will ever become a success, but it is an interesting example of how anyone is something in the Chinese food industry wants to cash in on moon cakes.

Chinese consumers also started liking smaller sized moon cakes in 2020. According to Bianlifeng, a Beijing-based, data-powered convenience store chain, the smaller mooncakes in pretty packaging have quickly gained popularity among consumers. Females accounted for 60% of the consumers who bought mooncakes at Bianlifeng, which has prompted the manufacturers of the mooncakes to make the snacks about half their traditional size. Mooncakes lighter than 80 grams accounted for 67% of the chain’s sales in 2020.

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.