A mooncake factory in Yiwu, Zhejiang. The demand for luxury cakes is weakened this year, due to the government's call on anti-extravagance work style.Lv Bin / For China Daily
The 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 and square mooncakes at family gatherings during the Mid-Autumn Festival. However, thanks to national policy and market demand, nowadays there are very healthy varieties of mooncakes at reasonable prices.
China’s catering and food industry has been implementing the central government’s regulations advocating frugality since December 2012. In 2013, both prices and overall sales volumes declined, especially in five-star hotels, restaurants and bakeries.
In the face of the austerity measures, this year many manufacturers have targeted the general market. To attract more customers, they are promoting a wide range of flavors.
“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 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 the labor costs have risen, but our retail prices have been reduced slightly to satisfy consumer demand,” Tian says. The restaurant has introduced a 199-yuan ($32) 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, which are higher than the actual value, 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 choices of fillings,” he says.
For example, 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 as many as 42 fillings at different prices, including some special flavors 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.
The hotel has unveiled a mooncake package at the price of 138 yuan aimed at the mass market, and Disney-themed items for children, who are diehard fans of the traditional pastries.
You will find classic animated characters such as Minnie Mouse carved into the mooncake and also printed on the elegant packaging.
“The tradition of sending mooncakes as gifts to families and friends is deeply rooted in our culture, and it has become a consumption model. It is still the mainstream.” Bian says.
According to Bian, some manufacturers are looking for mooncake recipes from the early years of the delicacy so customers will remember the tastes of the past. For example, compared with the original lotus seed paste, the current blend has a higher sugar content.
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 about 6,000 packages will be sold.
“Customers prefer mooncakes with traditional flavors. You can enjoy delicious mooncakes in elegant packages at a reasonable price,” Ji 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.”