Food

The Rise of Chinese style Instant Foods

For overseas diners, this means you can eat Chinese Cuisine even if you don't have to travel to China. Including the foods you have seen in LiZiqi's video or a bite of China.

In the past decade, China’s instant food market has experienced great ups and downs.

Back in 2011, China’s instant noodle industry grew at a rate of more than 20% for 18 years in a row, accounting for almost half of the world’s total instant noodle production.

During that period, more than 100 million packets of instant noodles were opened in China every day on average, and 1300 people opened instant noodles every second. By 2013, sales of instant noodles had reached 46.22 billion packs.

But the cliff came soon after the peak. From 2013 to 2016, total demand for Chinese instant noodles fell from 46.22 billion packs to 38.52 billion packs, a decrease of 8 billion packs in three years, a drop of 16.7%. According to a survey conducted by Sanxiang Metropolis Daily that year, only 8% of consumers regularly eat instant noodles, while 85.7% of consumers eat instant noodles occasionally.

Since then, the Chinese have almost reinvented instant foods, and now Chinese dishes that used to be eaten only in restaurants are among the best sellers in China’s instant food market.

For overseas diners, this means you can eat Chinese Cuisine even if you don’t have to travel to China.

Including the foods you have seen in Li Ziqi’s video.

What kind of instant food is popular in China?

Overall sales of instant foods in China have increased by 700% this year due to the pandemic, according to Tmall (Alibaba), a Chinese e-commerce platform. JD.com, another Chinese e-commerce platform, also showed that in the early days of the pandemic, the turnover of convenience foods was 3.5 times higher than in previous years.

However, among these sales, traditional instant noodles are no longer the favorite of consumers. Luosifen, turkey noodles, self-heating hot pot, Hot and Sour Rice Noodles, and other instant foods have entered the top 10 of Taobao’s best-selling list, making instant noodles off the altar.

So, what kind of convenience food is popular in China? Let’s introduce them one by one.

Instant Luosifen and other Chinese Noodles

Of all the emerging Chinese instant foods, Luosifen is definitely the most bright star among the stars.

Luosifen is an ancient food from Liuzhou, Guangxi, but it appeared late as a instant food. In 2012, with the popularity of A Bite of China, this staple food, which is well-known in Liuzhou, came into the eyes of the people of the whole country for the first time. In 2014, the first Instant Luosifen brand was officially launched, allowing all Chinese consumers to buy it.

The screenshot of Luosifen comes from the video of Li Ziqi.

If you follow Chinese Youtuber Li Ziqi, you will realize that she made this food in the video in August 2019. Although the style of the video maintains Li Ziqi’s consistent Mori style. But this is actually a smelly food. For diners, it is no easier to eat it than stinky tofu.

Luosifen’s soup is made from green snails simmered with ingredients such as pickled bamboo, black fungus, peanuts, fried bean curd, cauliflower, and baby greens, and contains vinegar, soy sauce, and chili peppers.

A list of ingredients for Luosifen, translated by Pandayoo.com

The freshness of green snails and the stench of sour bamboo shoots combine to form a strong aroma that tastes sour, spicy, salty, and stinky. It uses rice noodles rather than noodles which gives it a smoother texture, and when you pick up some of the rice noodles with chopsticks, the sauce sticks to the top. It’s just the right amount that won’t overwhelm you with flavor.

While the stench of it may scare you the first time you try it, once you’ve had a bite it’s overwhelming.

Instant Luosifen is extremely popular in China, with only Li Ziqi’s Instant Luosifen has more than 1.5 million monthly sales. On Taobao, the total daily sales of all brands of Instant Luosifen can reach 16,200 million .

On China’s e-commerce platform, several Instant Luosifen brands are currently popular: Hao Huan Luo (好欢螺) Snail Rice Noodle, Luo Ba Wang (螺霸王) and Liziqi(李子柒) Snails Rice Noodle.

Luosifen isn’t the only Chinese noodle made into instant food. Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles and Chongqing Xiaomian are the other two more popular dishes on the e-commerce platform.

Hot dry noodles look a bit like pasta, but the texture and taste are completely different.

Hot dry noodles are a Wuhan specialty, and during the COVID-19, Chinese people on social media referred to Wuhan as “hot dry noodles,” and called for “Hot dry noodles. Go!”

Hot dry noodles are made from lye water noodles. And with cooking oil, sesame paste, salad oil, sesame oil, shallots, garlic, diced radish, pickled beans, marinade, soy sauce, etc. added for supporting ingredients. Hot dry noodles are yellow and oily, tasty, and due to its high-calorie content, it can also be used as a staple, nutritious breakfast to provide the body with the energy it needs.

Some of the more popular hot dry noodle brands on Chinese e-commerce platforms are Dahankou(大汉口) and Cai Linji(蔡林记).

Chongqing noodles, on the other hand, is a type of noodle dish from the Chongqing region, and just like any other cuisine from Chongqing, it is characterized by its spicy nature. In a way,Chongqing noodles are like a spicy hotpot full of noodles.

Some of the more popular Chongqing Noodles brands on Chinese e-commerce platforms are A-Kuan and Guangyou.

In addition to the three types of noodles listed above, many regional Chinese noodles are being made into Instant Food such as Henan Mutton Noodles, Shanxi Knife Sliced Noodles, Lanzhou Beef Ramen, Hunan Rice Noodles and Guizhou Mutton Noodles.

These Chinese instant noodles are taking market share away from what used to be traditional instant noodles and are beginning to be sold overseas. As a result, many of these types of instant foods, which you can also buy directly on Amazon.

However, the brands may not be exactly the same as those popular in China’s domestic market.

Self-heating Hotpot

According to data released by CBNData, in the entire Chinese instant food market, self-heating hotpot ranks second in sales rank across all categories, behind instant noodles, and boasts a higher growth rate than instant noodles.

Take the popular Chinese brand “Xiao Xian Mo”(莫小仙) for example, a brand new brand born in 2017. But only one year old, it became an industry giant. In 2018, it ranked first in Taobao’s sales of self-heating hotpot. According to CITIC Securities’ budget, even in the most pessimistic scenario, future sales of self-heating hotpot in China will exceed 120 RMB 100 million pre year.

First of all, we need to explain what self-heating hot pot is. Like other self-heating foods, self-heating hot pot prefabricates simple fuel in packaging so that consumers can eat hot pot in places that are not suitable for the open fire, such as in the office or the wild.

Self-heating hot pots have been popular in China since 2017, and most of them can be cooked by simply adding water. Self-heating hot pots are a brand new category that was influenced, in part, by the instant noodle flaw.

During the three years that the Chinese instant noodle market was in decline, Chinese instant food companies have been trying to find out why instant noodles were no longer popular. One of the fairer reasons was the booming food delivery business in China during those years. People had more options for ordinary Chinese food during the lunch hour during the workday, rather than having to eat traditional instant noodles with mediocre taste and nutrition.

So, is there any Chinese food that’s not fit to be delivered? The answer is obvious: Hotpot and those foods that resemble Hotpot cannot be couriered.

Hot pot is the most important part of modern Chinese food. It not only satisfies people’s appetites but also carries social functions. The only problem is that its original form is not suitable for eating at home or during lunch breaks on weekdays.

As a result, China’s convenience food industry invented self-heating hot pot and was quickly loved by consumers.

The advantage of self-heating hot pot is that the preparation for a hot pot meal is reduced to as low as instant noodles, and people don’t have to think about which hot pot restaurant to go to, which pot base to choose, what ingredients to order, and how much they have to wait to finish.

All you have to do is tear open the package, add water to it, and you can enjoy it alone or with your colleagues. In addition to the Chinese self-heating hot pot, there are many other flavors, such as self-heating Tom Yum Kung and self-heating Sukiyaki. These are all dishes that cannot be made by the food courier industry.

Another advantage of self-heating hot pot is that China has a large number of supermarkets throughout the city, which means that people can buy fresh ingredients under their office buildings and add them to the self-heating hot pot.

On China’s e-commerce platform, the most popular self-heating hot pot comes from Haidilao(海底捞), a Chinese hot pot chain brand. Its self-heating hot pot products use exactly the same hot pot base as offline restaurants, which allows consumers who are unable to eat hot pot in restaurants for some reason.

In addition, Zi Hai Guo(自嗨锅) and Xiaoxian Mo(莫小仙) are also two other brands with high sales. However, the purchase of self-heating hot pot from China overseas may be subject to logistics restrictions because it contains flammable materials.

Self-heating rice and semi-finished food

Self-heating rice has always existed in the Chinese market, but it was not very popular until manufacturers finally found their own position.

Like instant noodles, ordinary self-heating rice is not enough to compete with food delivery — pre-packaged Kung Pao chicken will never be as delicious as the Kung Pao chicken in food delivery.

However, in recent years, manufacturers have begun to try to turn Chinese food that is difficult to make in takeout into prepackaged instant foods. A typical case, such as claypot rice, is a Cantonese dish that mixes different meat or fish with rice and then cooks over low heat on the stove for more than 30 minutes, allowing the flavor of the sauce and ingredients to seep into the rice.

Some semi-finished Buddha jump walls even contain a pottery bowl.

Another typical self-heating rice is “Buddha leaping over the wall”. People who know a little about this dish will know that this dish is made in a very complex way, requiring 16 ingredients, and each material needs to be processed in advance. This means that it is difficult to make this dish either in your own kitchen or in a fast-food restaurant on the street.

The above two dishes are just suitable to be made into self-heating food or semi-finished food. Take “Buddha leaping over the wall” as an example, manufacturers can seal the soup which has been cooked for more than 6 hours into vacuum-packed plastic bags, and consumers can use microwave ovens to restore its delicacy for 30 seconds after purchase.

Or more simply, like other self-heating foods, add water to the fuel bag and wait for it to be finished.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s self-heating rice market exploded, with sales on Taobao up 257.09% year-on-year, far exceeding instant noodles. Kai xiaozao by Uni-President Enterprises Corporation, Zihai Guo, and A Bowl of Rice by Sanquan Food are the three brands with the highest sales in this market.

In addition, some large and medium-sized restaurant chains have joined the battle with their existing central kitchens, such as China’s northwest food chain Xibei, which began selling Instant Lamb Spine Hot Pot in 2019, a dish that used to be eaten only in certain Chinese restaurants, but now people can only use microwave ovens to finish it.

Haidilao, a Chinese hot pot chain, also launched semi-finished Chinese food during the epidemic, with a total of 24 dishes to choose from. Consumers do not need to wash and cut vegetables after purchase, just pour the semi-finished ingredients into the pot to complete the final cooking steps.

Why is Chinese convenience food on the rise?

Back to the original question, Chinese instant food is on the rise. But why?

The reason is completely contrary to the decline of traditional instant noodles in China, so let’s take a look at why Chinese people don’t like traditional instant noodles:

First of all, as mentioned earlier, the rapid development of the food delivery industry has given people a lot of choices. According to industry insiders, before 2015, more than 20% of China’s instant noodles were eaten on trains and other means of transportation. But by 2017, even trains in China were covered with food delivery services.

Second, Chinese people are getting tired of the taste and nutrition of traditional instant noodles. In the field of traditional instant noodles, a flavor of instant noodles called “braised beef” has been popular on the China mainland for 30 years, and many other flavors of instant noodles have been improved with reference to the taste of “braised beef”. This makes all instant noodles in the Chinese market taste more or less the same. Although its taste is really attractive, the Chinese are tired of it.

Contrary to the above two points, Chinese instant food is positioned in the gap between restaurant food and food delivery, finding Chinese dishes that people used to want to eat in the office or at home, but did not have takeout.

After five years of the rapid development of the food express industry in China, in fact, it has also entered a bottleneck. 

Many consumers complain that although there are countless merchants in the food delivery App, the dishes that can be ordered seem to be limited to those that are easy to make and distribute.

And Chinese style instant foods fill those gaps.

The rapid development of Chinese style instant food not only brings more choices to Chinese consumers at lunchtime but also allows more consumers who cannot come to China to enjoy Chinese food remotely.

Taking the Luosifen described at the beginning of this article as an example, Instant Luosifen exported a total of 10 batches from January to April 2020, with a cumulative export value of $310000, an increase of 141.68% over the total export volume for the whole of 2019. This means that you may soon be able to buy this unique flavor of Chinese instant noodles at Amazon or the local Chinese supermarket.

Oh, by the way, LiZiqi has his own food brand in China.

When she posts a video of making food, she will put up a corresponding food in her online store in China. The food is not made by her own hands, but by her designated contract factory to ensure the quality and taste of the food.

If you want to try, you can search for Li Ziqi on Chinese e-commerce sites instead of Chinese video sites. You will get the results you want.

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