New dairy ads reflects cultural change in China

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

Oat milk

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

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

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

Eddy

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

The Oat Milk slogan is: four special functions:

OatMilk

Overtime Miracle

Travel Mate

Slimming Success

Ideal Snack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Yoghurt

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

YiliYouAd

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

Winter Olympics

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

YiliOlymp

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

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

Yoghurt icecream

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

DailanYoghIce

Male vs Female

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

Changyi

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

MnFemPack  MnMalePack

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

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

No sharing with others

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

YiliWangpai

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

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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Artificial jelly fish – Chinese can make it look, feel and taste real

In Chinese culture, artificial has a more positive connotation than in Western culture. We tend to regard anything artificial as less that ‘the real thing’. Chinese on the other hand perceive creating a good to perfect copy of the real thing as a skill and the product of that skill as something that has added value over the copied object.

This cultural difference is very visible in the different ways Chinese and Westerners deal with landscape. Many Westerners have their favourite spot of unadulterated nature that they frequently visit to recuperate. When Chinese find such a spot, they like to embellish it, to make it even more beautiful. You can accentuate a hill by adding a few metres of soil, dig a little lake, build a wooden bridge over a brook.

The Chinese word for ‘artificial’ is renzao (man-made). Man’s interference with nature makes it more renqi. This literally means ‘people spirited’ and refers to the cozy ambiance that you create, when people get together. In other words, a human hand will make nature more human.

In Chinese cuisine, and later carried on in the Chinese food industry, this positive perception of artificial has led to a large number of artificial versions of natural foods and ingredients.

For this post I have selected artificial jelly fish an example. Even the natural jelly fish is not something you will find on many menus of Western restaurants, let alone an artificial version.

My source for this post states that artificial jelly fish is novel food that can compare in look and quality with natural jelly fish. It adds that regular consumption can lower the glycemic level, and can prevent heart diseases and obesity. Wonderful!

While most industrially produced jelly fish starts from sodium alginate, this recipe uses seaweed as raw material. The seaweed is steeped in sufficient water and treated with sulphuric acid to take away the calcium and soaked in a sodium carbonate solution. The acidity of the filtrate of the resulting liquid is then lowered to 7.5 – 8 using diluted sulphuric acid.

The basic recipe of artificial jelly fish is:

580 gr of the processed seaweed; 20 gr gelatin; 90 gr calcium chlorate; 5 gr sodium hydroxide; 200 gr salt; 5 gr MSG; 100 gr water.

First solve the gelatin in 100 ml water and stir in the treated seaweed; leave for 6 hrs. Stir again and add the sodium hydroxide until pH 10.

Solve the calcium chlorate in water using a 1:5 ratio, and then add the solution to 450 ml of water. Poor 400 ml of the liquid on an enamel plate and wait until it sets into a sheet of 2 – 3 mm. Repeat that until all liquid is finished.

The sheets are seasoned with salt and MSG and left for 3 days. Then the product can be cut into shapes, most typically shreds, like the natural jelly fish. Sodium benzoate can be used as preservative.

Jelly fish is usually eaten as a cold appetiser. Some vinegar, chili and chopped spring onions can be added.

JellyFish

It is difficult to assess if the cost price for this product is lower than that of the real thing. This also applies to the balance of nature. We do not need to hunt jelly fish, but we are still harvesting seaweed. However, seaweed can be grown in coastal water, just as we grow wheat in soil, while jelly fish is hard to herd like some of the fish we like to eat.

This product is definitely high in dietary fibre, even though some less agreeable chemicals are needed to get it on our table.

I think that the real bonus for the creators of this recipe (and a long list of other recipes, including those for artificial chicken, honey, grapes, and shrimps) is that they derive pleasure from the very fact that they are able to create all this artificial food that is like the real thing . . . and a little bit more.

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.