Bakeries step up as mooncake sales hit hard
Mid-Autumn Festival promotions mean mooncakes, big business and fierce competition for bakeries. This year, the competition will be even harder - as the new administration under Xi Jinping continues to push its frugality campaign, leading to a loss of big orders.
It also means bakeries are being more creative and cost-conscious to win over new customers.
In Beijing, Daoxiangcun, a 120-year-old bakery, launched its first mooncakes on August 7. This is the beginning of autumn in the lunar calendar and in line with tradition.
This year the bakery is offering 32 varieties of mooncake filling. Alongside traditional ones such as egg yolk, sweet bean paste and lotus seed paste, the bakery is also putting some more contemporary cakes on its shelves - Chinese yam, blueberry and sweet potato. It has also prepared miniature mooncakes with strawberry, coffee, prunes and beef.
But the bakery's biggest innovation this year is the launch of a new, so-called Beijing-style, mooncake, with a much thicker crust and far less filling than its Cantonese counterpart.
Cost-conscious customers will be happy to know the bakery is moving away from fancy and expensive gift boxes to simple wrapping.
Quanjude, the famous Peking duck restaurant, has been roasting poultry for nearly 150 years. Despite being a relative newcomer to the mooncake business, it has already found support for its unique varieties. Its most popular ones are filled with roast duck meat with fragrant Chinese onion or with five different nuts. Other fillings include bean paste with blueberry and lotus seed paste with hazelnut.
Its gift packages cost no more than 200 yuan (HK$250), significantly less per order since the government's campaign. (The mooncakes will not be available at the Quanjude branch in Tsim Sha Tsui.)
Most of Beijing's luxury hotels offer premium mooncakes. Sofitel Wanda Beijing has seven packages this season, many featuring a blend of Chinese and Western design and flavours.
They include four tea flavoured offerings, one with the famous Yunnan Pu'er, a set of eight cakes filled with stuffings as diverse as rye with coffee paste and organic rice, as well as a cartoon box for children, which contains seven small mooncakes with sweeter fillings of fruit and cream cheese.
Their most interesting offer is the ornate Opera Box, containing six mooncakes with light, fruit cream fillings. The top of the box is a wooden frame with a print of a French painting, which can be kept once the cakes are finished. Inside the box are six smaller, printed containers.
"What we want to achieve here is to mix Chinese tradition with a French touch," says Thomas Jouan, from Sofitel Wanda Beijing.
He says all the five-star hotels in Beijing have been hit hard by the government's frugality campaign.
"We lost a lot of big customers. Before, some Chinese companies could order several thousand boxes. Now they are not allowed to spend money at five-star hotels," he says. "This year will be tough. Everybody in the hotel is a salesman for the mooncakes, including our general manager."