Potato growing & processing in China

Few people know that China has already been the world’s largest potato production and consumption country since 1978.

The humble potato, a staple of many a European nation, used to have only a supporting role in Chinese cuisine, even though it has been grown in China for about 400 years. Known as tudou (literally: ‘earth bean’) in colloquial Chinese, or malingshu (‘horse bell tuber’) in more formal texts, the potato traces its history in China to the Ming dynasty, and was popularised by French missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

As the name indicates, potatoes used to be seen as a vegetable in Chinese cooking. In home style cooking, in particular in Northwest China, where the potato is an indigenous crop, chunks of potato are added to stews, particularly with beef.

Chefs have created some deep fried delicacies, including tasty little patties and a finely shredded version of the French fry, which is sheer indulgence. Most common in the home and (home style food) restaurants, is the “tudousi“. This dish might come with strips of pork, slices chili, and pickled vegetables.

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Some cooks are even combining the foreign potato with very traditional Chinese flavours like the famous yuxiang (fish flavour) spice mix, creating dishes like yuxiang potatoes, shown in the picture below.

YXpotato

The ultimate dish in this series should be: Sweet and Sour Potatoes, a potato variation on the most typical of Chinese dishes in overseas Chinese restaurants: Sweet and Sour Pork.

SweetSourPotatoes

However, potatoes have started to challenge the great staples: millet, wheat and rice in China in recent years. The arrival of Western style restaurants and in particular fast food chains, have introduced potato dishes to virtually all urban Chinese. The countryside can be expected to follow soon.

Potato growing

Insiders expect that China will produce 96.82 mln mt of potatoes in 2017. The top regions, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, are good for 45% of the national volume. The following table shows the regional output of potatoes in 2015.

Region Volume (mt)
Gansu 2,146,000
Inner Mongolia 1,883,000
Sichuan 1,612,000
Guizhou 1,503,000
Yunnan 1,444,000
Chongqing 1,017,000
Heilongjiang 565,000
Shaanxi 561,000
Ningxia 423,000
Hubei 415,000
Liaoning 383,000
Shanxi 362,000
Qinghai 362,000
Hebei 348,000
Hunan 285,000
Jilin 237,000
Fujian 231,000
Zhejiang 163,000
Guangdong 162,000
Anhui 49,000
Tibet 5,000

The top 5 regions are indicated in the following map.

Image

 

Potatoes are getting so important in China that the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange (ZCE), one of China’s two agricultural commodities exchanges, intends to introduce potato trade. ZCE is reporting problems with obtaining the necessary permits from the China Securities Regulatory Commission and other relevant central authorities, that are said to need time to “consider more about the development of the market”.

The ZCE has been mulling over the launch of the product for quite a long time. The exchange disclosed its plan to introduce potato futures trading in early 2012, saying the contract was set to be launched by the end of that year. Later that year, the agricultural authorities of Gansu province said all preparations for potato futures had been completed.

Potato growing as poverty relief

Guizhou and Gansu province are expanding the amount of land they have planted in potatoes in accordance with a Ministry of Agriculture plan which calls for around 6.7 mln hectares of them by 2020. One out of 100 towns or villages in under-developed Guizhou province is Lutang, which now has much of its land for potato growing. The head of the village, Zhang Wei, says they have 1.15 mln kgs of top quality potatoes that they plan to distribute to farmers for free to use on 200 hectares of land. Local authorities say that as many as 60 percent of the households in the area living with poverty see the potato planting as a good method to help them generate income and two special cooperatives have been set up to keep prices stable and to ensure income. The planting area is expected to reach just over 660 hectares by 2018.

Frozen French fries

Only 10% of the national output is further processed into various (semi)finished products.

In the last three years, China’s rapidly changing lifestyles and eating habits have resulted in a booming fast-food industry. Chinese consumers, especially those who live in large urban areas, have accepted Western-style fast-food restaurants that serve French fries and other popular side dishes as a way of life in China.

203,000 t of frozen french fries were produced in China in 2012, up 21.56%. Another 130,000 mt were imported, indicating that there is still ample space for growth. A small volume, 14,100 mt, was exported.

Frozen French fries require raw materials compliant with strict requirements, such as shape, starch content, sugar content, and color. Therefore, processors usually contract with farmers to produce potatoes which meet certain quality conditions. After a poultry disease outbreak and other problems in that industry, which affected Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s, the largest buyers, production of frozen french fries has decreased considerably. Although the scare seems to be over, production is not expected to rise considerably soon.

Foreign investors

Still, a market like this is bound to attract international investors.

  • JR Simplot established in 1992 in Beijing’s Fengtai district, is a joint venture between US-based JR Simplot , McDonald’s and Beijing Agricultural, Industrial and Commerce General Company and primarily produces french fries and hash browns for McDonald’s and other East Asian customers. It was fined a record RMB 3.9 million for water pollution in April 2015.
  • McCain Foods started construction of a French fry processing facility in Harbin (Heilongjiang) in 2004. The new company, which was registered in the Harbin Economic and Technological Development Zone, was McCain’s first processing facility in Asia.
  • Aviko has a production facility in Minle (Gansu) since 2008, and in June 2014 signed another project in Zhangjiakou (Hebei), near Beijing. The latter is a partnership with Snow Valley Agriculture.
  • Conagra has acquired TaiMei Potato Industry Limited, a potato processor in Shangdu (Inner Mongolia) in July 2014.
  • Farm Frites has signed an agreement with Inner Mongolia Linkage Potato Co. Ltd. in September 2014, to set up a joint venture in Chifeng (Inner Mongolia). The Joint venture will build a new french fry factory and target the premium segment of the Chinese french fry market. Inner Mongolia Linkage Farm Frites Co. will be for 75% owned by Linkage, while Farm Frites will own 25%.

Top 3 brands

Instead of looking at volumes, this blog prefers to introduce ‘top brands’ from a popularity perspective. Here are the top 3 french fries chain outlets according to a Chinese consumer site.

1 Calbee Crazy Potato Calbee

2 Tudou Xinyuan (Potato Wish) TudouXinyuan

3 Mofa Tudou (Magic Potato) MagicPotato

 

Potato starch

China’s 2013/14 season potato starch production is forecast at 350,000 mt, a slight decrease from the previous year. Imports are forecast at 41,000 mt, up 10%. China╒s Ministry of Commerce announced in February 2013 that anti-dumping duties on EU potato starch imports would be imposed for another five years. Top Chinese producers of potato starch are:

Company Location
Huaou Starch Inner Mongolia
Lantian Potato Gansu
Beidahuang Potato Heilongjiang
Yundian Starch Yunnan
Weston Potato Qinghai

 

Potato chips

Insiders estimate China’s 150 potato chip plants produced 375,000 mt in the 2012/13 season, up 10%.

Potato chips have become a popular snack food in China. Most international players are studying their options, and some of them, like Pepsi (Lay’s), have started local production. However, not any potato will do. Each must be precisely the right variety, grown into an ideal shape and size and available on the exact schedule necessary to supply the chip factories in Beijing and Shanghai. Potatoes grown by local farmers don’t always make the cut. Unless they are handled as delicately as eggs, they risk bruising — a common side-effect of China’s manual farming techniques and crude distribution methods. To ensure the yellowish color of its Lay’s chips, Pepsi also requires potatoes to

be low in both sugar and water content. The ideal specimen is about as large and round as a baseball. Even now, Pepsi’s two farms still produce only about 40% of the potatoes Pepsi needs in China.

Other major potato chip brands (manufacturers) in China are: Calbee (Calbee), Lay’s (Pepsi), Oishi (Liwayway) , Shanghai House (House), Carrefour (Jishijia). P&G has negotiated with a potential partner in China for the local production of Pringles.

Top 3 brands

Here are the top 3 potato chips brands according to another Chinese consumer site.

1 Lay’s Lays

2 Capico Capico

3 Pringles Pringles

Capico is the only domestic brand in this list. Its producer, Dali Foods (Fujian) got listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November 2015. Dali is also one of China’s top producers of biscuits.

The following screenshot shows how the major brands seem to imitate Pringles’ packaging, while offering their chips for a significantly lower price.

PotChipsComp

Exports

The first Chinese potato chips were exported to the US in the course of 2015. However, it was not Capico, but Chak Chak, produced in Fuxin (Liaoning). Chakchak chips stand out by their bright colours, produced using natural anthocyanin. It is interesting to observe that an innovative product like Chak Chak can beat a generic version of the product (Capico) in getting accepted on the global market.

Chakchak

Potato as staple?

A discussion has started in China to improve the status of the potato as staple food. Vice-Minister of Agriculture Xu Xinrong posted a remarkable statement on the ministry’s website on January 9, 2015, entitled ‘strategies for turning potatoes into a staple’. In this concept, potatoes will gradually become China’s fourth largest staple food, after rice, wheat and maize. Xu Shaoshi, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (an organization under the State Council), picked this up and added that potatoes will be mixed into bread, steamed buns and noodles to suit Chinese consumers’ taste and habits. the Ministry of Agriculture is planning for 50% of China’s annual production of potatoes to be consumed as a staple food on the domestic market by 2020.

As an emerging staple food in China, potatoes have to compete with bread, as introduced into our post on the position of bread in China elsewhere in this blog.

The Institute of Agro-Produce Processing Science & Technology of the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences is developing new applications of potatoes as staple food. One of the products in the pipeline is flour consisting of 35% whole potato powder and 65% wheat flour. Using machines also developed by the Institute, a range of pastas can be produced. In cooperation with Haileda Food (Beijing) it has developed a type mantou that consists for 30% of potato. The product was launched on June 1, 2015. The potato buns are yellower and harder than traditional versions. But they are more nutritious, containing extra vitamins and dietary fiber and less fat. The researchers have announced that they next step in this R&D project is to increase the potato content to 40% and further to 50%. Other potato products will also be developed, like: noodles, or bread.

 World Potato Congress in China

The 9th World Potato Congress (WPC) has been held in Yanqing county in northwest Beijing from July 28 to 30. More than 3000 representatives from over 30 countries around the world gathered in the capital for the top event by the global potato industry. More than 50 domestic and foreign well-known experts presented academic reports about the industry. Latest products and technologies were displayed during the event. There was an experience area showcasing potato food such as potato chips and potato mud to visitors. China Potato Expo, China Potato Congress and an international symposium on potato products and industrial development ran parallel to the WPC.

China Potato Expo 2016 will be held in Kunming (Yunnan), June 27 – 29.

Experimental zone in Beijing suburb

Yanqing county in the northern suburb of Beijing is an ideal area to grow high-quality potatoes. The climate is perfect and the soil should produce bumper yields of the vegetable. Already the county has cultivated more than 10 varieties of potatoes at the seed stage. It is also the home of the newly established China branch of the International Potato Centre, a global scientific research organization that seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries. The centre will be China’s first international agricultural research institution and will serve the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Beijing Xisen Sanhe Potato Co, one of the country’s largest seed merchants, have also set up shop in Yanqing, where they have been working on new strains of potatoes. The research and development at their facilities, and the new International Potato Centre should help increase production not only in the area but in the rest of the country. Plans are also underway to open a high-tech scientific park for potato research in Yanqing. The project will be a joint venture with neighboring Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.

Beijing Hengde Jiahui Equity Investment Co。 is looking to fund agricultural and food firms focusing on the potato industry, and has set up a center in Yanqing county.

Dutch potatoes in Inner Mongolia

HZPC of the Netherlands has signed an agreement with Geruide Potato Co., Ltd. (Inner Mongolia) to establish a potato growing base in Taipusi (Inner Mongolia). The joint venture is expected to start on January 1, 2016, and is projected to produce 50,000 mt of potatoes p.a. Although not officially announced, I assume that HZPC’s move is based on the expectation that it will become the main supplier of the above mentioned foreign potato processing plants in the region.

Potato songs

Feng Xiaoyan, 52, a potato farmer-turned-entrepreneur, has even commissioned multiple potato-themed songs to help promote the consumption of potatoes. On a recent day, Ms. Feng appeared on a local television station to sing a warbling tune expanding on the tuber’s delights. “Fry up a plate of slivered potato, eat a slice of potato flatbread! Potatoes are our fortunate eggs, potatoes are our fortunate eggs.”

Potato research institute

Yunnan Normal University intends to set up a Potato Research Institute. The univeristy stated that the establishment of the Potato Research Institute is in line with the national development strategies of positioning the potato as a staple food, and is also in accordance with Yunnan’s development plan for a green economy, food safety, and plateau agriculture. It has set up a virus-free potato seed repository, with more than 1,200 germ plasma cultivated in China and abroad. It’s one of the largest in China in terms of potato genetic diversity.

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.

 

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Bread in China – from snack to staple, though still for the young urban

Western style baked bread is not a staple of the traditional Chinese diet, but it has been quickly catching up among China’s urban middle class during the past 20 years, in which China’s baking sector has grown by 10% annually, and bread has been the main driver product.

According to a staff member of the bakery chain BreadTalk, 80% of their clientele were foreigners, when she started working there in 2005. This has changed completely, and now Chinese are the main customers.

A product for the young and the affluent

When you take the time to observe the activities at any bread store in a Chinese city, you can observe that at least three quarters of the regular domestic patrons are (young) professionals, white collar workers. Older people still regard bread as something that is foreign. They do not dislike it, but it is something you consume occasionally, as a snack.

Moreover, bread is still regarded as relatively expensive. Teenagers and students like to ‘hang out’ in and around bread and cake shops, because they like to cozy ambience that all chains like to create. However, they only occasionally actually buy Western style bread or pastry, because it is too expensive.

Chinese like it soft

When bread first started to come up in the mid 1980s, the preferred type was the soft, white bun, with a relatively sweet flavour. It had to be extremely soft. As one European bakery technician with whom I used to travel through China put it like this:

‘Chinese bread should be made of such a texture, that you can put it in an ordinary envelope, put a stamp on it and send it to your friend. When your friend opens the envelope, the bread should restore to its original shape’

This has started to change recently. Chinese consumers are gradually learning to appreciate more salty types of bread, bread with harder crusts, and whole grain bread.

Bread is also gaining ground in the breakfasts of more and more urban Chinese, replacing porridge, fried dough sticks (youtiao) and steamed bread (mantou).

The sandwich is starting to replace the bowl of (instant) noodles a Chinese office worker typically eats for lunch. The advantage of bread over these traditional breakfast and lunch items is time: you can buy a week’s supply of bread, while traditional breakfast and lunch need to freshly prepared.

Facts & figures

The Chinese consumed 2 mln mt of bread in 2016. That is a lot, but the per capita consumption of bread is approximately 2 kg p.a. (in the urban regions about 3.2 kg), compared to 10 kg in Japan and 9 kg in Taiwan. Insiders expect that the Chinese bread consumption will gradually rise to the level of Taiwan, which means that the growth potential is enormous.

According to the above estimates, the current Chinese bread consumption already exceeds 1 million mt p.a. This would grow to 9 million mt p.a., if the population would remain the same. If we apply the Chinese estimate for the population by 2020, the Chinese bread consumption would rise to 12.5 million mt p.a. The estimated development is reflected in the following table.

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Market structure

Bread is a localised business in China. There are very few regional suppliers, let alone producers that sell on a nationwide scale. It is also still a very Chinese business. Multinationals are present, but do not dominate. The largest bakery company in the world by far, Grupo Bimbo, has a very small presence in the market with just one plant.

One of the few companies with such a status is Mankattan Food Co., Ltd. Mankattan has been established by the Belgian Artal Group in 1995. Mankattan has achieved a large market share through direct distribution of bread products to retail, food service and school locations. The main company is located in Shanghai, with subsidiaries in Beijing and Guangdong, giving it production centres in China’s most densely populated regions.

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Another successful example is Taoli (Toly) Bread (Shenyang, Liaoning). However, Taoli also produces traditional Chinese bakery items like mooncakes and zongzi. Still, the fact that the word ‘bread’ is part of the company indicates that it is its leading product. Taoli was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in December 2015.

TaoliBread

Several domestic and foreign bakery chains are gaining ground on large Chinese bakery companies like Christine and Holiland. The South Korean chain Paris Baguette now has 37 stores in China, the Taiwanese chain 85°C Bakery Cafe has about 145, and the Singaporian venture BreadTalk 170. Starbucks Coffee (400 outlets; planned to increase to 1500 by 2015) is also developing in this direction in China.

Some experienced players from Hong Kong have also expanded to the Mainland, like: Queen’s Cake Shops, Maxim’s and Aji Ichiban, which may sound Japanese, but has Chinese founders.

A common feature of all chains in this category is that they tend to be located in office buildings and high end shopping centres, close to their largest market segment.

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Case study: Euro Bakery, an ambitious Dutch investor

Euro bakery, a 130 staff bakery in the Beijing region founded by Dutch investor Henny Fakkel, recently received a loan from the Netherlands Finance Development Company (FMO). The bakery is now expanding its business with a long-term EUR 2 mln loan from FMO.

Euro bakery specialises in traditional as well as new-style bread and cake variations, from European-style big loaf bread, rolls, whole wheat sourdough breads to pastry varieties, muffins and cookies, Danish pastry and also cheese savoury cookies. The bakery did well over the past years to tap into the growing popularity of bread products in China’s capital. The bakery factory of 135 staff caters for cafes like Costa coffee, Pacific coffee, and for companies like IKEA, International schools, Compass Group, Sodexo, airport catering, Pizza Express, embassies, hotels, restaurants and wholesalers.

EB2

 

Euro bakery has come a long way since Henny Fakkel and Grace Wang started the business in 2006. The bakery has managed to extend its large-client base to 60, and with a staff of 135, the bakery produces seven days week and distributes its products all over China via 450 delivery points.

Euro bakery wants to expand to 4000 m2 and build its own bakery education institute to train itd staff and disadvantaged young people to give them the chance to follow a baking course.

Frozen technologies

Insiders believe that the penetration of frozen technologies in baked goods will increase in the future. In China, where labour is abundant and cheap, it may be counterintuitive to see penetration of a high-end technology for production of baked goods growing. However, increasing complexity and diversity of products in industrial bakeries is driving the requirement for frozen solutions. It is already deployed in 20% of western style baked goods in the country.

In the artisanal sector, which is about 56% of the Chinese bakery industry by value, the penetration of frozen technologies is very low. The highest penetration of frozen technologies is in branded/packaged baked goods. This trend is changing and we are seeing many local and medium-sized bakery companies also interested in frozen technologies. Ingredient manufacturers should be wary not to miss these opportunities for specialist ingredients for frozen bakery products.

 

Key target for food ingredients

Bread is pointed out by Northern Sunlight, China’s largest distributor of food ingredients, as one of the most interesting growth markets.

This is corroborated by a the Director of the China Food Additives Association (CFAA), who claims that he regards Bakery China as the most prominent competitor of CFAA’s Food Ingredients China (FIC). Bakery China is organized annually in May, covering 9 halls of the Shanghai New International Exhibition Centre. Apart from baking products, it  also covers ice-cream and pasta and all ingredients for the entire product range.

Virtually all Chinese bakers are using bread improvers, compound ready-to-use ingredients, comprising enzymes, emulsifiers and a various other additives. I have already introduced the structure of the market for flour and baking ingredients in a previous blog. You can see more details there.

Here is the ingredients list of Mankattan Coarse Grain Toast Bread:

Wholegrain wheat flour, water, HFCS, shortening, yeast, bran, salt, gluten powder, flavour, additive [bread improver (starch, vitamin C, enzymes, calcium propionate)].

The way the ‘additive’ is broken down in individual ingredients is prescribed by law. Although not stated verbatim, it indicates that the producer does not purchase those ingredients separately, but buys a ready-to-use bread improver.

Other ingredients include various shapes and textures of fruits (e.g. dates), vegetables, nuts and meat, cheese powder, yeasts, nutrients for fortification, flavours, special oils or fats, fresh butter, cream, shortening, starch and modified starch, chocolate in various presentations, dairy based ingredients, and much more.

Eurasia Consult’s database includes 941 industrial producers of bread.

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.

 

Baijiu – not Chardonnay, but perhaps an alternative for whiskey

2017 is the year of baijiu brands. For the first time, the fiery Chinese drink now accounts for a greater share of brand value than any other spirit type. In 2016, baijiu accounted for 23% of the total brand value of the Brand Finance Drinks 50 behind Whiskey on 37%. However this year, the tables have turned. Whiskey’s share has dropped to 28% while baijiu has surged to 37.5%.

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Latest news

Key figures of the top 5 listed Chinese distillers; first half 2017

Company

Turnover

RMB bln

Growth

%

Net profit

RMB bln

Growth

%

Maotai 24.190 33.11 11.251 27.81
Wuliangye 15.621 17.85 0.4972 27.91
Yanghe 11.530 13.12 3.908 14.15
Shunxin 6.548 4.47 0.245 6.04
Luzhou Laojiao 5.116 19.41 1.467 32.73

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Being lured into drinking numerous shots of local spirits during a Chinese banquet is a recurrent theme in the tall stories foreigners take home from their China trips. While Chinese are often imagined in Western literature as a tea drinking nation, alcoholic beverages have been the typical drinks to wash down your dinner in China, and especially business meals are not complete without at least one bottle of distilled liquor.

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There is an endless variety of local spirits and the local brew is often used in the self promotion of regional governments. The World of Chinese has compiled a useful overview. However, they share a common denominator: baijiu, which literally means: ‘white wine’. However, that translation is never used, as it will put most Westerners on the wrong foot, mistaking it for fermented white grape wine.

Chinese make them strong. Most spirits have an alcohol content exceeding 50%, and even the more recently developed ‘low degree baijiu’ is usually stronger that whiskey or brandy. A sip of baijiu is a completely different experience than savouring a glass of Chardonnay.

This video provides a look in a baijiu production plant. It is in Chinese, but those familiar with the distilling industry will understand most of it.

China has produced 135.836 mln hls of spirits in 2016; up 3.23%. The following table lists the regional breakdown of the spirits production in China in 2014, and the in- or decrease compared to 2013.

Region Volume(10,000L) Growth(%)
China 1,257,131.81 2.75
Sichuan 349,970.50 5.57
Shandong 118,142.91 -9.99
Henan 107,746.24 1.76
Jiangsu 89,851.47 -4.05
Hubei 84,935.45 17.13
Inner Mongolia 61,670.55 -1.68
Jilin 59,415.13 7.17
Heilongjiang 57,032.90 15.38
Liaoning 50,445.49 -15.33
Anhui 43,598.58 4.66
Guizhou 38,045.20 11.00
Beijing 29,496.59 5.34
Hebei 29,367.45 5.60
Hunan 21,710.21 5.74
Chongqing 19,798.72 14.20
Guangdong 17,131.64 14.53
Jiangxi 16,381.00 13.81
Shaanxi 11,919.09 11.58
Guangxi 9,939.96 5.84
Shanxi 9,359.71 -10.11
Yunnan 8,632.72 5.26
Xinjiang 6,331.25 -2.10
Gansu 4,442.03 -1.65
Fujian 4,439.83 7.60
Tianjin 2,301.27 -9.40
Qinghai 1,944.23 -7.98
Zhejiang 1,859.33 -10.02
Ningxia 874.47 -25.31
Hainan 199.90 72.48
Shanghai 75.00 -88.11
Tibet 73.00 -10.10

The order of the regions has hardly changed in 2014. Sichuan has been the absolute top region for many years. The (much) higher than average increase of some southern provinces is conspicuous in the current statistics. Traditionally, the people in the north are the heavy drinkers.

The following picture shows how well Chinese spirits companies are appreciated among international investors. The stocks marked in red are baijiu producers.

Age and education matters

A survey into the development of the popularity of baijiu among different market segments conducted in China during the first half of 2017 reveals that spirits are getting slightly more popular in the youngest drinking age segment and then significantly more among people of 40 and up. However, this trend is considerably stronger for the low end spirits than for the high end varieties. The older consumers drink more spirits, but prefer the cheaper brands, while the beginning drinkers like to start with the high end products. This can be partly explained as a cultural phenomenon. Starting baijiu drinkers like brag about it and then the effect will be best if you can brag about your first sip of Wuliangye, rather something from a local still.

Similar curves can be observed for the various levels of education. The letters refer to the highest diploma of the respondents; legend: P = primary school, H = high school; M = intermediate vocational; V = higher vocational; U = university. It is not easy to explain why people with a higher education would drink more baijiu, while you would expect them to be more interested in wine. However, when they drink it, they prefer the high end brands.

Long tradition

The Chinese production of alcoholic beverages has a long history. The most ancient, chemically-attested, alcoholic beverage in the world was recovered from a Neolithic tomb site in Jiahu (Henan), dating back to 7000 BC. This discovery dates to almost 2000 years earlier than the hitherto discovered most ancient wine production in the Middle East. A mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit/grape and honey was reconstructed on the basis of the analyses of the pottery recovered from the Jiahu site by Delaware-based brewing company Dogfish Head Craft Brewery with the help of the University of Pennnsylvania. The brew is marketed under the Chateau Jiahu brand. The ancient Chinese made a unique contribution to alcoholic beverage-making by using specific grains, especially rice and millet, whose carbohydrates were broken down into simple and fermentable sugars by mold saccharification or amylolysis.

The Moutai story

Ever since US President Nixon tasted Moutai at a state banquet in China, what was already recognised as the nation’s national spirit then became known worldwide instantly. Interestingly, this brand has been developed with the aid of the State, witness the following timeline.

  • 1951-1952: The Chinese government purchased Chengyi, the biggest local distillery, and merged it with another two distilleries, Ronghe and Hengxing, establishing the State-owned Moutai Distillery.
  • 1952: Kweichow Moutai was rated as a nationally famous liquor, and top ranked among eight national liquors.
  • 1957: China invested 1.3 million yuan ($197,511) in expanding liquor and yeast production, liquor storage, and laboratories. Moutai formalized 14 operating rules and procedures for producing Moutai, fully restoring traditional techniques.
  • 1962: The Office of Light Industry of Guizhou province designated the annual output of Moutai as 500 metric tons, with 610 employees.
  • 1972: During the National Workplanning Conference, Zhou Enlai instructed that in order to maintain water quality for Moutai production, no more mines or factories, especially chemical factories, should be built along the upper reaches of the Chishui River. Also the year of Pres. Nixon’s seminal visit to China.
  • 1979: Moutai won the National Liquor title for the third time and the National Golden Award for Quality for the first time.
  • 1980: The packaging of Moutai liquor was transformed into a semi-mechanical, continuous production system, effectively improving its quality and increasing efficiency.
  • 1983: The security committee of the Office of Light Industry proclaimed that the techniques of Moutai production had been officially listed in the first batch of confidential projects in light industrial science and technology. The production process was opened for visits but could not be photographed.
  • 1989: Manual stomping to make distiller’s yeast was fully restored. Moutai Distillery revised the national standard for first-class sauce aroma liquor distilleries. Kweichow Moutai won the Golden Award at the Fifth National Liquor Tasting Conference for the fifth consecutive time. Despite the overall decline of sales of white spirit in China, sales of Moutai surpassed the goal set by the nation and exceeded 100 million yuan ($15 million).
  • 1991: The Kweichow Moutai brand from Guizhou gained top ranking in the first China Famous Trade Marks appraisal.
  • 1996: Guizhou provincial government gave approval for Moutai Distillery to restructure into an exclusively State-owned enterprise, and to be renamed as China Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd. The series of 500 milliliter bottles of Kweichow Moutai (including Feitian and Wuxing) formally started to use customized caps provided by Italy’s GOALA, with anti-counterfeiting marks, anti-refilling and safe-to-use functions.
  • 2001: Kweichow Moutai launched Vintage Moutai, marking its production date at a conspicuous place next to the Moutai brand. Kweichow Moutai was successfully listed at the Shanghai Stock Exchange, raising RMB 2 billion.
  • 2006: The Moutai liquor-making technique was selected on a list of the first batch of National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
  • 2010: Annual sales revenue of Moutai Group exceeded RMB 15 billion. The company expanded its production capacity by more than 35%. The total market value of Kweichow Moutai Group Co Ltd reached RMB 173.5 billion, the highest of all listed white spirit companies.
  • 2013: Heritage sites of the Moutai liquor-making industry were placed seventh on the list of key national-level cultural relics under protection. The Kweichow Moutai brand was valued at 82.4 billion yuan, topping the Chinese food and beverage industry list.
  • 2015: Moutai initiates an annual Moutai Day in San Francisco.
  • 2016: Moutai is officially launched in Germany.
  • 2017: Moutai pops up as the world’s leading spirits brand on Brand Finance’s list.
  • 2017, Sept. 9: Moutai University, China’s first university named after a liquor company opens its doors for the first cohort of 600 students. The university has five undergraduate majors: liquor-making, grape wine-making, food quality and safety, resource recycling sciences and engineering, and marketing.

Flavours

Baijiu comes is distinct flavour types:

Rice aroma: The basic baijiu. Expect a floral, mild flavor, almost like rice (hence the name), and an exceptional smoothness from triple distillation.

Light aroma: A popular style in Northern China, this baijiu is made from a rice and sorghum blend that displays some of the restrained aromas of sake. The feature that distinguishes light aroma baijiu from it’s more pungent cousins is the ceramic jars in which it’s fermented, which keep the spirit’s aroma fairly neutral. Also, the mash often include peas, as is the case with the famous Fenjiu, imparting a sweet, floral taste. Light aroma baijius are typically the least expensive to produce.

Strong aroma: The most ubiquitous and widely consumed style of baijiu. It is spicy, fruity, and packs a serious aftertaste that pairs well with cuisine in the Sichuan region where it is produced. Strong aroma baijiu is fermented in earth pits with recycled mash, which help to develop the spirit’s flavor over the years.

Sauce aroma: From Guizhou province (the home of Moutai), this baijiu style is full-bodied with a sharp taste (akin to soy sauce, hence the name) and is the most labor-intensive to produce. The spirit passes through up to eight rounds of subterranean fermentation and distillation and at least three years of aging, which is why it’s more expensive.

Like Western distillers, all major producers have their own confidential process, mixing cereals with herbs, spices, berries, beans and even Chinese medicinal herbs. However, sorghum is the bulk ingredient for most types of baijiu.

Modern production

All manufacturers and certainly the cheaper brands, have modernised their production processes, regulating the flavour of their end products using additives. These can include small amounts of sweeteners like sodium saccharine, sodium cyclamate or acesulfame-K. Commonly used aroma chemicals are: ethyl acetate, ethyl butyrate, ethyl lactate and ethyl formate. Ethyl acetate is the substance most influential to the prominence of the typical baijiu flavour.

A number of Chinese flavour companies have developed ready to use mixes of aroma chemicals for baijiu. Some of these are even supplying mixes to imitate the typical flavour of famous brands, like a flavour company in Guangzhou that is advertising for ‘Maotai flavour’. Moutai has so far not undertaken legal actions against such suppliers. Perhaps their confidence in their own product is strong enough.

New raw materials are also being explored. A distiller in Sichuan is currently experimenting with sugar cane.

Fluctuating market

In spite of the fact that the list of top food brands still includes several types of spirits, the production has shown considerable fluctuation during past decades. With the increase of spending power of the average Chinese consumer, the consumption of alternatives, first beer, later followed by wine, grew rapidly to the expense of spirits. This trend was reinforced by the central government that wanted Chinese to consume less baijiu, for health reasons and to save cereals.

The market has been rising again in recent years, and the output of 2013 was 123 mln hls, up 11% compared to 2012. However, this trend is not likely to be continued in 2014, as baijiu, in particular the top brands, is suffering most from the new government’s cut down on public spending. Famous spirits used to be an indispensable ingredient of an official banquet. Government organizations, but also enterprises, are now wary of feasting on Moutai or Wuliangye and are choosing less expensive brands.

Consumers aged between 35 and 45, especially those in the middle-class bracket, are crucial to the baijiu market, according to a recent market survey. They start to discover high-end baijiu between the ages of 25 to 35. Then from 35 to 45, they gradually form a “brand loyalty”.

New strategies

As a result, the China’s top distillers need to reconsider their strategy in two respects: the domestic repositioning of their brands and exploiting the international market. The growing Chinese communities all over the world form an interesting market, but the real challenge will be to lure Western drinkers to switch from their familiar whiskey or vodka to baijiu.

The buzz word of the China Foods & Drinks Fair (Tangjiuhui) of October 2014 was: ‘spirits for the masses (dazhongjiu)’. Several of the top producers were pushing cheaper brands. Moutai is now also offering a Small Moutai, Wuliangye has teamed up with Xijiang (also Sichuan) as a mid level priced baijiu. The latter option is a win-win strategy for both brands. Xijiang can link its brand to its famous brother Wuliangye, while Xijiang is promoting Wuliangye whenever it is advertising for itself.

An Beijing-based initiative to promote baijiu is World Baijiu Day. It is actually a weeklong series of events that runs from August 1 – 9, 2016.

world-baijiu-day

Yet another ruse is selling top spirits for a very low price to get new customer types hooked on the product. Right after the 2014 National Holiday, Luzhou Laojiao‘s top product sold for RMB 9 for a short while (original price: RMB 288). You can imaging the rush.

Also see the spirits section in our item on the cost price of several Chinese food and beverage products.

Xifeng, another old respectable baijiu brand has announced that it intends to take in about 10 of its largest domestic agents as shareholders. Its agent for the Beijing region, Beijing Sugar, Tobacco & Alcohol Group, will even hold a 5% share. This has been revealed in the papers necessary for Xifeng’s intended IPO in March 2015. An interesting example of value chain integration.

Sichuan-based Luzhou Laojiao has launched a special type of baijiu geared to what it refers to as ‘young business people’. This strategy is aiming at two promising market segments, young people and business people, simultaneously. It is a top quality baijiu packed in a smaller than average bottle, to decrease the costs of business lunch or dinner. This strategy therefore also tries to fit into the new policy of the national government to curb spending on wining and dining for business.

The promotion abroad seems to get results. The list of the world’s top 10 distillers published by Brand Finance early 2017 includes 6 Chinese brands, with Moutai featuring as the world’s leading brand of 2017.

 Baijiu dedicated bars in China

A new bar in Beijing billing itself as the world’s first dedicated to baijiu,named Capital Spirits, has opened its doors in Beijing recently.

“A lot of people have had bad experiences at banquets” where they might be coerced into drinking shot after shot of the colourless liquor, says American William Isler, one of the bar’s owners. “They throw up and say, ‘Never again.’”

Capital Spirits has the vibe of a speakeasy, with muted lighting, plenty of antique wood and a stainless-steel still in the corner churning out distilled beer and wine. There’s no sign on the door, although a ledge outside is set up with small wooden chairs, low tables and candles.

The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, a restaurant and lodge project in Beijing’s suburbs near the base of the Great Wall, that produces baijiu-based liqueurs.

Mott 32 recently won media accolades as the top baijiu spot in Hong Kong.

R&D Cocktail Lab, a Taipei venue that is dedicated to alcohol experimentation. It will feature kaoliangjiu, the baijiu most associated with Taiwan.

Baijiu dedicated bars outside China

Exports of baijiu have been increasing recently. The customs of Yibin, (Sichuan), the home town of Wuliangye, report that 14,880 hls of baijiu were exported in 2015, an increase of 92.4% compared to the previous year. Let’s have a look at the situation in a few selected countries.

USA

Another way to facilitate baijiu making its way to the Western world is creating cocktails. Peking Tavern, a hip Northern Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles mixes baijiu into a slew of cocktails (with names like: Peking Coffee, Jin Jing, and Wong Chiu Punch), as does Korean eatery Drunken Dragon in Miami and New York’s Asian fusion den Buddakan. In early March 2015, Lumos, a new evening haunt specializing in baijiu,has landed in Manhattan. Lumos has a menu of more than 60 baijiu cocktails. Owner Salicetti was introduced to baijiu by his architect partner Li Qifan and realized baijiu would be a great way to stand out in a city awash with specialty bars.

Australia

Golden Monkey, a cocktail bar and restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, with many China-inspired dishes and drinks.

UK

The Hide, one of the London bars co-owned by Paul Mathew.

Baijiu connoisseurs

Connoisseurs whose opinions can make or break a wine have been part of the wine industry for a long time. As imitating what others do well is a typical feature of Chinese culture, the Chinese baijiu industry has started to groom a similar type of experts a few years ago, and the first list of baijiu connoisseurs was published in August 2014, comprising 41 people.

It will be hard for these people to exactly copy the ritualistic activities of wine tasters. Spirits do not differ each year depending on weather conditions and other parameters, so it will be useless to decided that Moutai of 2008 was better than that of 2011.

Moreover, most of the people on the current list are employed by distillers; some even are managers. This will make it hard for them to judge competitive products fairly.

Foreign investment

Some multinationals are already trying to cash in on the expected discovery of baijiu by the international market. Diageo has acquired a stake in the Shuijingfang (Sichuan province; the top region for baijiu, see the above table) brand of baijiu a few years ago, and has recently bought out the Chinese partners. The company now intends to take baijiu to the international market. Diageo is looking to market it as a luxury drink for £99 a bottle to high-end Chinese restaurants such as Hakkasan and Mr Chow, and is looking to benefit from the growing affluent Chinese population in London, which is said to be close to 2 million, including (semi-)permanent residents and visitors. Diageo seems to be doing well, as Shuijingfang is one of the recent newcomers in the list of top Chinese food brands of 2014.

However, Diageo is still affected by the spin-off of the anti-corruption campaign. The former Chinese CEO, who had stayed on after the foreign take-over, has left, and was replaced by James Rice. A Chinese has already taken over again. Rice has  It will be interesting to see how a foreign will a Chinese company active in a market with such a strong bond to Chinese culture.

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Overseas production

We still have to see the first Chinese distiller venturing overseas production of baijiu. However, two US investors have started producing versions of their own.

Byejoe Spirits in Houston is marketing two varieties under the Byejoe brand. The company gets baijiu from a Chinese distiller. However, this is not the same baijiu that is in your Byejoe bottle. The Chinese baijiu is shipped to a distillery in South Carolina where the alcohol is further cleaned and distilled.

Vinn Distillery (Portland), established by a Vietnamese of Chinese descent, is producing baijiu using an old family recipe.

Australian sorghum

Baijiu production has been growing so rapidly, that China now needs to import part of the sorghum from abroad. Australian sorghum exports to China peaked in 2015 at over A$ 500 mln afler baijiu manufacturers ramped up imports from down under. Sorghum exports benefited from tariff reductions under the recent China-Australia free-trade agreement. A team from various Australian research institutions is now working to identify the quality and varieties of sorghum that are best suited to the China baijiu market.

Exhibiting abroad

Three baijiu makers, Fenjiu (Shaanxi), Baofengjiu (Henan) and Laobaigan (Hebei) have participated in a trade manifestation organised by the US-China Business & Culture Association in San Francisco in January 2015 in a joint attempt to promote baijiu in the US. The China Wine Newspaper was also represented. These three brands have all won prizes during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, but apart from the honour, it has so far not won them any share in the US market.

Luring the young

Traditional baijiu drinkers in China are men born in the 1950s and 60s; an aging market indeed. To lure back a number of younger consumers, the baijiu industry is developing new types of spirits that better suit the palates of the young urban professionals. One example is Xingpai, a brand name that is said to be a translation + translitteration of High Passion. It is a so called ‘rice aroma type (see above)’ of baijiu. It is said to be made from the highest quality of rice and no flavours or other addidives are added. However, Xingpai is still 52%, so quite strong for young people used to accompany their meals with beer or wine.

Xingbai

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.

 

Formulated milk beverages in China

Even though dairy has been incorporated in several traditional regional cuisines, China is not known as a typical dairy nation. However, the industry has been developing rapidly during the previous decades, in spite of a number of food safety problems that have received global attention. The main reason is that Chinese, with support of the national government, strongly believe in the nutritional value of milk. Already in 2006, the prime minister stated that ideally every Chinese should drink one glass of milk per day.

China produced 35.31 million MT of raw milk in 2013. In the same year, the nation produced almost 23.36 million MT of liquid milk (in China, this term usually comprises fluid milk and yoghurt).

Still, a high volume of milk is consumed by the food industry. This is because, in spite of the healthy image of dairy, the average Chinese consumer still finds the taste of milk hard to appreciate.

Designer beverages

The combination of these facts, high nutrition + disagreeable taste, has created a very unique market segment in the Chinese dairy industry, including a broad variety of beverages with milk as their main ingredient, combined with a number of flavours and nutrients. We will refer to this product group as formulated milk beverages (FMB).

FMB can be further categorized in a number of ways. First of all there is the distinction between fermented and non-fermented beverages. Fermented FMB have a more sour taste and often contain probiotics.

Another subtype is what the Chinese industry refers to as ‘protein drinks’. These beverages used peanuts, almonds, soybeans, etc., as their main ingredients. They have a thicker texture than the average soft drink. A number of protein drinks combine milk with peanuts, red beans, or other of these protein ingredients, which makes them part of the scope of FMB.

These macro ingredients are usually supplemented with a number of other ingredients that can be divided in three main types:

  • Flavours: achieving the targeted flavour of the end product. Red bean milk will obviously contain red beans, but also needs a small amount of red bean flavour
  • Sweeteners: Chinese like their drinks sweet, so sugar is an ingredient in the bulk of FMB. However, with the growing awareness of the harm of excessive sugar intake, part or all sugar can be replaced by a combination of artificial sweeteners
  • Texturizers: texture is an essential aspect of FMB, and especially the protein beverages. Chinese consumers expect a creamy, thick, texture. Even Chinese who do regularly consumer plain fluid milk expect such a creamy mouth feel. Some Chinese ‘plain’ liquid milk products therefore contain small quantities of thickeners, to ensure that consumers do not suspect it to be diluted milk.
  • Nutrients: FMB are all marketed as nutritious products, healthier alternatives for the regular soft drinks. Milk, beans, fruits (e.g. dates; you will find a recipe in the linked blog), and vegetables already add to that nutritious impression, but special nutrients can be added as well. These include the regular vitamins and minerals, but also herbal extracts from traditional Chinese medicine, like Lingzhi fungus (Ganoderma).

Here is a representative example: Strawberry Flavoured Milk Drink

Produced by: Zhujiang (Pearl River) Beverage Company, Zhongshan, Guangdong

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Ingredients:

Main ingredients water, sugar, whole cream milk powder, strawberry juice
Sweeteners acesulfame‐K, sucralose
Flavour ingredients citric acid, strawberry flavour, monosodium glutamate
Other ingredients potassium sorbate, monascus colour

 

Many readers will doubt the nutritional value of a product like this, compared to simply drinking a glass of milk, which should be a lot cheaper as well. However, for the time being, this can be expected to be the mainstream in ‘dairy products’ in China.

Also see the dairy section in our item on cost price break down of several Chinese food and beverage groups.

New development: combination with probiotics, organic salt

Probiotics have become a pet ingredient in Chinese formulated dairy beverages. The total turnover in 2015 of probiotic milk drinks was RMB 11.98 billion, up 14.9% compared to 2014.

Huishan Dairy (Liaoning) has launched a new range of fermented dairy drinks with fruit and vegetable juice under the brand name Huawo. The company thus combines two major ‘healthy’ trends in the Chinese food industry: probiotics and natural juice, in one product.

Huawo

Haocaitou (Fujian) has launched a dairy drink with probiotics and natural lake salt imported from Australia, that it markets as a sports beverage.

Rusuanyan

Also look at the Xiaoxixi vinegar milk with pineapple vinegar introduced in my post on new vinegar-based foods and beverages.

Government support

A discussion has been going on in the Chinese media whether these beverages should be allowed to be marketed as dairy products. The government has supported the industry in this debate by officially allowing these drinks to use ‘XX milk’ a product names in October 2014. In this way, the producers are allowed to position their products with a healthy image.

Eurasia Consult has a database of more than 130 formulated dairy drinks and their manufacturers + a large number of recipes for formulated dairy products that circulate among Chinese food technologists.

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.

 

The most representative Chinese pickle: zhacai

If we were to pinpoint a vegetable as THE most representative of Chinese pickled vegetables, it would be zhacai. The Latin name of zhacai is Brassica juncea tumida. It is a peculiarly looking pickled vegetable, resembling the shape of a fist. It is the stem of a variety of mustard.

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This special pickle originates from Sichuan (the Chongqing region, which is now a separate administrative region) and was first created in 1898. The name zhacai, literally meaning pressed vegetable, was inspired by the process employed to press out the salt water using bean curd press. Zhacai is flavoured with salt, chilli, pepper and a mix of typical local spices like star aniseed, kaempferia galanga, glycyrrhiza, etc. The exact composition of the spice mix is the secret of the manufacturer.

Though covered in chilli, it is not hot but extremely salty and is usually cut to size and soaked to remove the salt before cooking. When only a small amount is used as a seasoning, no soaking is necessary. It should be cooked only briefly to retain the crunchy texture.

Have a look at a Chinese video showing the processing of zhacai. Although it is in Chinese, experts should be able to understand the gist.

Zhacai is an essential ingredient in the famous Hot and Sour Soup. Entire tubers available in glass or stone jars, or cans. Shreds are sold in plastic bags Some manufacturers combine zhacai shreds with shredded mushrooms or other vegetables.

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In recent years, the market for zhacai has expanded considerably, after it had become a kind of leisure food. It is shredded and packed in small aluminium sachets. The shreds can be used to spice up dishes, in particular the more bland convenience foods like instant noodles, or instant congee. Many Chinese even nibble on zhacai shreds in front of the TV.

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On average, 100 gr. of zhacai has the following composition.

 

Substance Content
Water 67.3 gr
Protein 4.4 gr
Fat 1.2 gr
Carbohydrates 5.6 gr
Crude fibre 3.1 gr
Ash 18.4 gr
Calcium 224 mg
Phosphorus 125 mg
Iron 8.1 mg

 

Zhacai: – the pillar of Fuling economy

The Fuling region of Chongqing has always been famous for its zhacai. The local authorities are supporting the development of growing and processing of this vegetable. Zhacai is regarded as the symbol of Fuling and vice versa. The region produced 1.28 million MT of zhacai in 2012. Almost 90% of this was processed into ‘convenience zhacai’. They also intend to promote export. Zhacai is currently the highest valued of the ‘Chinese Local Brands’, with an estimated value of RMB 12.532 billion. Zhacai is often refered to as another name for Fuling. Fuling has generated a turnover of RMB 275 mln in the first quarter of 2016; up 22.05%.

Fuling is also the home of China’s only research institute specialised in zhacai: the Yudongnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, with a separate Zhacai Research Department.

The importance of the Fuling region is reflected in the fact that China’s top 3 brands of pickled vegetables (so not exclusively zhacai) are all located in there.

Wujiang

Wujiang brand (Fuling Zhacai Group)

Yuquan

Yuquan brand (Yuquan Zhacai Group)

Lameizi

Fuliing Lameizi (Lameizi (Hot Sister) Group)

Fuling Zhacai Group announced in August 2017 that a new 40,000 cubic metre production tank will be constructed, involving an investment of RMB 162 mln.

Automation

The Baiheliang Zhacai Factory of the Fuling Zhaicai Group has installed a completely automated production line in 2015.

ZhacaiAuto

So what’s in it?

A package of Yuquan brand zhacai proudly states: no preservatives added. Great; Chinese consumers have grown very suspicious of additives. However, apart from the zhacai itself, it does contain: salt, rapeseed oil, MSG, disodium 5’-inosinate, citric acid, acesulfame-K, sesame oil and spices.

In other words: several ingredients to enhance and preserve that flavour. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

From zhacai to soy sauce – an innovative process

An interesting development is the use of the affluent of zhacai processing to produce soy sauce. The Fuling Group, China’s largest manufacturer of zhacai (capacity in 2014: 64,800 mt/p.a.), listed at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, has developed that technology. Moreover, the new soy sauce process no longer includes steps that require manual labour. Work that before required 500 workers, now only needs 30 – 40 people to complete. This is a fine example of how a traditional product can inspire industrial innovation.

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.