With US$595 truffle and gold leaf mooncakes, Mid-Autumn Festival 2021 is all about luxury for people with money to spend and nowhere to travel in the coronavirus pandemic
- People and companies in Singapore and Hong Kong have bought more mooncakes than in 2020, and ones with luxury or exotic ingredients have gone fast
- Raffles Singapore sold of out truffle and gold leaf mooncakes at US$595 a set and mooncakes with immunity-boosting ingredients have been a hit for another hotel
Demand for the most extravagant mooncakes, which are often given as gifts, has been intense for years. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has ramped up even more in some places as people seek comfort in tradition.
In Singapore, where few have been able to travel overseas for most of the coronavirus pandemic, people have more money to spend, along with an increased focus on the holiday’s rituals. This year’s festival, which falls on September 21, faces additional challenges with supply shortages related to the pandemic.
According to Justin Tang, managing director at Lao Zi Hao, a wholesaler of sweets that mostly makes mooncakes for hotels, sales are up 30 per cent.
“Because of travel restrictions, mooncakes from neighbouring countries couldn’t come in,” he says of cheaper varieties from China that Singaporeans would often buy; imports are being disrupted by shipping and trucking issues. Tang adds that corporate customers are adding to their initial orders, boosting sales.
At Man Fu Yuan at the InterContinental Singapore hotel, the baked mooncakes sold out early, according to Benjamin Leung, assistant restaurant manager. “Demand is significantly improved, and we could make a substantial amount of revenue,” he says of the rise in mooncake sales compared to 2020.
At the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, Alex Huels, director of food and beverages, says sales look to be up by a quarter on pre-pandemic levels. With more people seeking exceptional products, he says, the hotel’s online shop is enjoying “a positive shift and growth in sales”.
At the Raffles hotel in Singapore, all 10 kinds of mooncake on offer have sold out amid “continued high demand” from both corporate and individual clients, says Tai Chien Lin, the hotel’s executive pastry chef.
He says consumer trends dictate new offerings. In 2018 an interest in superfoods manifested in an açai berry and chia seed mooncake. This year has brought appreciation for what he calls “refreshing and fruity flavoured mooncakes”.
Accordingly, he created new flavours for the hotel’s “snow skin” collection, made with a frozen glutinous rice crust instead of the traditional pastry; similar to Japanese mochi, these treats include Da Li rose and strawberry chocolate.
While Raffles mooncakes are relatively modestly priced, going for around S$78 for a box of four, pricey versions are popular, too. Boxes of four truffle mooncakes with 24 carat edible gold leaves, offered for S$799 (US$595) apiece by the e-commerce site Golden Moments, have sold out.
At Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, this year’s mooncakes, with flavours such as lotus paste with melon seeds and yam and lotus paste with salted egg yolk, are low in sugar. This is a new trend for the treats, which often come three to four inches (7.5cm to 10cm) wide and typically clock in at 700 to 1,000 calories apiece because of their high fat and sugar content.
Singapore’s Fullerton Bay hotel is also getting in on the trend for slightly healthier ingredients. General manager Giovanni Viterale says it has placed an emphasis on ingredients seen as boosting immunity and well-being, such as wolfberries and green tea. The most popular new flavour is antioxidant oolong tea with dried cranberries.
In the United States, mooncakes are also gaining traction. For the fourth year, the elegant Japanese-French bakery chain Lady M is offering mini cakes, custom designed with the Kee Wah Bakery chain, in custard and chocolate flavours.
The Celebration of Lights Mooncake bundle, which goes for US$160, is designed in the shape of a Ferris wheel. In 2020, the bundle sold out within two weeks in partnership with Netflix’s animated musical Over the Moon. This year, the bakery produced more mooncakes, but they sold out online in just over two weeks.