Instant Chinese delicacies a big hit

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Instant hot and sour rice noodles, instant snail rice noodles, self-heating hotpots -- China's slew of instant delicacies are stimulating the country's economy.

On Thursday, Baijia Food, a Sichuan-based foodstuff maker, announced that it had managed to secure a funding of almost 200 million yuan (about 28 million U.S. dollars). The company said it had received cooperation invitations from more than 50 venture capital firms since February.

Baijia has seen steady growth. Its average growth rate over the past three years stands at 45 percent. Last year, the company's sales revenue exceeded 700 million yuan, making it one of the biggest instant food makers in China.

Behind this fervor is the rising popularity of instant local delicacies in the country. According to a 2019 report about e-commerce giant Taobao, in 2018, Chinese people purchased 18 million self-heating hotpots, 28 million snail noodles and 21 million grilled cold noodles.

Chinese foodies are also exploring different flavors of instantly-edible snacks. A report by CBNData and last year showed that the favorite delicacy of local Beijingers was Yangzhou fried rice, while Shaanxi noodles were the most preferred choice among the people in the southern island province of Hainan.

Over the past few years, instant food products have upgraded and diversified, according to Simon Zhang, global CEO and China chairman of Ries Positioning Strategy & Consulting.

"The Chinese youth love fresh and better-flavored products, and the convenience of eating is also an important factor that drives them toward instant food," Zhang said.

Zhang believed that the coronavirus epidemic popularized many lesser-known food items, such as instant clay pot rice and self-heating hotpots.

"After trying once, many people became regular consumers, and this would have a positive impact on such products," Zhang said.

Traditional instant noodles once faced a crisis in China. A Euromonitor International report showed that the instant noodle market in China was marred by years of decreasing sales since 2014. From 2014 to 2019, the compound annual growth of instant noodles in China was minus 4.1 percent.

"As people's life gets increasingly better, so does their disposable income," said Miranda Zhou, a senior analyst with Euromonitor International. "Their demand has changed from eating enough to eating well."

Chen Zhaohui, president of Baijia Food, believes it is important to seize the opportunity of the emerging market of instant Chinese delicacies.

He has worked with suppliers of many restaurants and found ways to make instant food, featuring fresh ingredients such as fresh noodles and fresh rice noodles, instead of the traditionally dry, fried noodles.

He also upgraded the seasonings. Bamboo shoots, bean products, peanuts and vinegar have now replaced the dry vegetables. He expanded the range of his products by including distinctive delicacies, such as the snail noodles of Guangxi and beef noodles of Guizhou, in his food line.

Chen's company is not the only one trying to grab a share in the instant delicacy market. Hotpot chains like Haidilao and Xiaolongkan have introduced their own self-heating hotpot products, and used livestreaming to promote these varieties.

"As the pace of life gets faster, consumers need more convenient food; and when they don't want to cook, instant food is the best option," said Simon Zhang. "From this perspective, instant food would always enjoy a long dominance and stable market."

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