It's hard to ignore the Mid-Autumn Festival on Sept 22 even if you are sipping coffee in one of the now-prevalent Western coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa.
Display cases are filled with reminders of the occasion in the form of colorful mooncakes in various flavors. The pastries are a traditional delicacy eaten on this, one of the four most important Chinese festivals.
The round or rectangular cakes are usually filled with a dense mixture of lotus seeds, yolks from salted duck eggs and assorted flavorings. Starbucks, for the first year, has offered "ice-cream moon" as an innovation on its previous traditional mooncakes to surprise local consumers, said Li Jing, a communications manager for the coffee house.
Competition to provide the most popular mooncakes has been given extra spice this year with the participation of more Western chain stores, including Haagen-Dazs, the ice cream maker, as well as the traditional bakers, high- and medium-end hotels and supermarkets.
Prices are at an all-time high, increasing 10 percent this year because of the rising cost for ingredients, according to a report by the China General Chamber of Commerce. The country is expected to manufacture 250,000 tons of mooncake, bringing in revenues of 14 billion yuan during this fall, the report added. The cost of flour has risen 10 percent, sugar 30 percent, oil 10 percent and beans more than 100 percent, according to the report.
The Hong Kong-headquartered Wingwah Mooncake shops have put their prices up 8 percent, blaming a rise mostly in the cost of lotus seeds and sugar of about 30 percent.
"The profit margin is lower than last year," the company told China Daily. The company, which has 90 stores in the Pearl River Delta and retails at supermarkets in other cities on the Chinese mainland, has increased sales by 20 percent on the Chinese mainland and 10 percent in Hong Kong so far this year.
The cost of ingredients has made the retail price rise 4 percent for Hong Kong Maxim's Mooncake, a mooncake maker in the Special Administrative Region. However, it expects a double-digit increase in sales this year, the company told China Daily.
Daoxiangcun, a major mooncake maker in North China, has made its pastries smaller to offset the highest price surge in ingredients in at least five years for the company.
Shao Ruilin, a marketing manager for the Beijing company, said it had cut the weight of its cakes from 125 grams to 110 grams to keep the price the same as last year. The company has achieved revenues of 270 million yuan so far this year and is hoping to reach sales of 350 million yuan by the day of the festival.
The occasion is intricately linked to the legends of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. According to Li-Ji, an ancient Chinese book recording customs and ceremonies, the Chinese Emperor should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn. The cakes, with the egg yolk representing the moon, have become an indispensable part of the tradition.