Mooncake ban may be too late to halt extravagance

Sales well under way ahead of Beijing's latest bid to rein in officials' extravagance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 August, 2013, 6:48am

When President Xi Jinping ordered government officials to lay off the banqueting and sorghum-liquor guzzling over the Lunar New Year, bai jiu sales plummeted and luxury restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai were hit hard.

But mooncake sellers may have dodged a bullet this Mid-Autumn Festival. Analysts and hoteliers say a government mooncake ban comes too late to make a serious impact.

Authorities announced on Wednesday - a month before the festival - that officials were barred from buying mooncakes and presents or hosting dinners with public funds. This would help eliminate "extravagant waste" during the festival and National Day celebrations, Xinhua reported.

"That was more about sending a message," CLSA investment analyst Mariana Kou said. "Hotels and bakeries had begun to take orders for mooncakes weeks ago. And the ban for government officials doesn't affect the middle class, which has increasingly chosen to buy expensive mooncake varieties in recent years."

An anti-mooncake editorial in People's Daily said on Thursday that "polite reciprocity, when overdone, becomes a kind of squandering of cash".

A spokesman for the Hilton Beijing said its mooncake sales were better this year than last year. A spokesman for Hong Kong-based The Peninsula, which has mooncake retail outlets in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, said he had not noticed a significant difference this year. The Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing said it started taking mooncake orders in July.

Many mainland consumers also prefer to order mooncakes from Hong Kong, where they feel assured of better quality control standards.

A spokeswoman for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong said orders for mooncakes were higher this year.

The Peninsula's "Spring Moon" mini egg-custard mooncakes sold out on July 6.

Vendors will also continue to come up with extravagant mooncake varieties to stand out in a crowded market, Kou said.

Packaging and marketing costs make up the majority of the price of mooncakes, which are usually made of cheap ingredients such as lotus-seed paste and egg yolk. Last September, China Merchants Bank sold 6,000 gold mooncakes at 16,000 yuan (HK$20,000) apiece, and boxes of jewel-encrusted mooncakes were sold a few years ago for 6,900 yuan a box.