Mooncakes for the health conscious
THE mooncake, a traditional autumn delicacy, has undergone a makeover, as manufacturers look to reach out to health-conscious consumers.
It's a long-standing tradition that Chinese people eat sweet, square mooncakes at family gatherings during the Mid-Autumn Festival. However, thanks to national policy and market demand, there are now healthy varieties at reasonable prices.
China's catering and food industry has been implementing the central government's regulations advocating frugality since December 2012.
Last year, both prices and overall sales volumes declined, especially in five-star hotels, restaurants and bakeries.
In the face of the austerity measures, many manufacturers have targeted the general market. To attract more customers, they are promoting a wide range of flavours.
"Customers are into stylish and healthy mooncakes. That's what we are making," says Tian Jing, general manager of the Imperial Palace Restaurant in Beijing.
According to Ms Tian, the products sold at her restaurant have no additives, and all the ingredients - from the fillings to the cooking oil and flour - have been carefully chosen.
The restaurant's most popular items are Chaozhou-style 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.
In addition to the traditional mooncakes with five-kernel or lotus seed paste fillings, the restaurant has introduced fillings made from fruit and vegetables, such as cranberry and white gourd.
"The prices of ingredients and labour costs have risen, but our retail prices have been reduced slightly," says Ms Tian.
The restaurant has introduced a 199-yuan (S$40) mooncake package, consisting of eight pastries, this year.
Bian Jiang, deputy director of the China Cuisine Association, says: "Mooncakes are a seasonal food, eaten in a festive atmosphere. The prices...are subject to market demand.
"The general trend for mooncakes is quality. Outstanding brands are more competitive in the market, with their delicious and fresh mooncakes, and a greater choice of fillings."
For example, the Westin Beijing Financial Street has packages that mix Western and Chinese flavours, such as goose liver, truffle, pumpkin and Chinese chestnut.
The Shangri-La hotel in Beijing has as many as 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.
The hotel has unveiled a mooncake package for 138 yuan aimed at the mass market, and Disney-themed items for children.
Manufactures are confident about sales this year because of the quality of the products and the relatively low prices.
Beijing Marriott Hotel City Wall has three types of mooncake packages, with prices ranging from 199 to 399 yuan.
Ji Tian, the marketing and communications manager, estimates that 6,000 packages will be sold.
"Customers prefer mooncakes with traditional flavours. You can enjoy delicious mooncakes in elegant packages at a reasonable price," the manager says.
Zhang Wenlei, assistant director of food and beverage at the Westin Beijing Financial Street, says: "I am confident about our mooncake sales because people's incomes have risen, and they attach great importance to family reunions."
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK