Key Points:

  1. Traditional Snack with Cultural Significance: Sunflower seeds are a staple snack in China, enjoyed on various occasions, and have deep cultural roots traced back to the Yuan Dynasty. They are particularly associated with social gatherings and leisure activities.
  2. Evolution of Consumption Habits: The method of consuming sunflower seeds has evolved over time. Originally, watermelon seeds were preferred, but sunflower seeds gained popularity due to their better taste after replacing watermelon seeds during the Republic of China era.
  3. Transition from Traditional to Packaged: The market for sunflower seeds transitioned from traditional nut shops selling seeds in bulk to packaged versions, with brands like Cha Cha revolutionizing the industry through innovative marketing and product quality improvements.
  4. Success Factors of Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds: Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds achieved remarkable success due to its focus on product quality, innovative cooking methods, and extensive brand marketing, including strategic advertising and distinctive packaging.
  5. Challenges and Adaptations: Despite its initial success, Cha Cha faced challenges such as diversification failures and increased competition from emerging brands. However, it adapted by refocusing on its core products, targeting younger demographics, and exploring collaborations with other brands.

In China, different festivals have different foods for festivals.

Eat Zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival, Moon Cakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival, Dumplings on the Spring Festival and Yuanxiao on the Lantern Festival.

But there is one kind of food that appears on the table when all people are reunited,and that is Sunflower seeds.

Sunflower seeds are not a holiday food in China, but one of the most common snacks. It appears on almost every occasions where people need to “wait” or “chat”.

You don’t need to eat sunflower seeds with tools, but you need to use your hands. It’s “troublesome and convenient” to eat. This makes it the best way for people to kill time with their smartphones’ video on.

The Origin of eat Sunflower seeds

The history of Chinese eating sunflower seeds can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty, but in modern China, ChaCha Sunflower Seeds changed the way Chinese people bought sunflower seeds and made the Chinese snacks available to foreign diners.

Sunflower seed is a traditional snack in China. In the past, people would stir-fry Sunflower seeds and take them away.

When cooking Sunflower seeds, people don’t remove their shells. To a certain extent, this can make the shelf life of Sunflower seeds longer, and it is not easy to be polluted during storage.

When people want to eat Sunflower seeds, they will grab some fried Sunflower seeds in the left hand, pick up a Sunflower seed with the right hand and place it in the middle of the teeth to gently exert pressure, causing the Sunflower seed shell to crack. Then, eat the kernel and throw away the shell.

This kind of fried seeds can be traced back to the Yuan Dynasty, when people ate watermelon seeds instead of sunflower seeds.

In fact, to this day, no one in Chinese say Eating Sunflower Seeds(吃花籽), they only say Eating Mellon Seeds(吃瓜子).

The Chinese meme “Eating Watermelon“, is also simplified from “Eating Watermelon Seeds“. Because in the past, Chinese middle-aged women like to gather at the entrance of the community to chat, and when they chat, they will also “eat sunflower seeds”. After several simplifications, “Eat Watermelon” has become synonymous with gossip in Chinese.

Replacing watermelon seeds with sunflower seeds occurred during the period of the Republic of China. Sunflower seeds contain more fat and therefore have a better flavor when it is cooked. Nowadays, Chinese people seldom eat watermelon seeds and pumpkin seeds. When they say “Eat Melon Seeds” in Chinese, they actually mean eat sunflower seeds.

As mentioned above, eating sunflower seeds is a typical way to kill time with entertainment video on.

It has several characteristics. It is difficult to eat sunflower seeds to be full, but also very difficult to eat sunflower seeds to get bored. Because no matter how skillful you are, it takes dozens of seconds to crack one sunflower seed out of its shell.

It is also for this reason that Chinese people actually do not like to eat sunflower seed kernels which have been shelled. Because it takes only a few minutes to eat sunflower seed directly, you will consume a lot of calories and feel sick.

In addition, the act of shelling for sunflower seeds occupies both hands. This makes it possible for people to have their hands not idle when chatting.

Feng Zikai, a famous Chinese painter and writer, once criticized this kind of food in his works, and thought it was a meaningless waste of Chinese young people’s time. This criticism is made when China is in the most painful transition period in modern history and is being invaded by many countries.

That was really not a good time for eat sunflower seeds.

Packaged sunflower seeds change the market

In the past 20 years, great changes have taken place in the sales methods of sunflower seeds.

Nut stores in China

For more than 600 years from the Yuan Dynasty to the reform and opening up, melon seeds and sunflower seeds were both cooking food. In ancient China, people usually sold it in restaurants or teahouses because people usually ate there.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, fried sunflower seeds began to sell in nut shops where peanuts and walnuts are sold too. These nut stores are usually located near residential areas, where people buy sunflower seeds by weight and eat them at home.

Nut stores usually fry new sunflower seeds, every day. The shelf life of the finished sunflower seeds is usually about 6 months. This kind of nut store usually has a high starting price, and you usually have to buy at least 500 g.

This brings a lot of problems, such as the poor quality of some batches of raw sunflower seeds, which will lead you to buy many inferior sunflower seeds at one time. Sometimes you buy a lot of sunflower seeds, but because of the temperature in summer or the heating temperature in winter, their quality will deteriorate before eating.

The process of fried Sunflower seeds

Another important problem is that the sunflower seeds shells sold in such nut shops will have a layer of black ash. Because in the process of frying it, black silica grain is usually added to make it heated evenly.

Although people don’t eat sunflower seed shell, they can still get people’s hands dirty.

In the 1990s, the packaged food version of sunflower seeds gradually occupied the market. At that time, there were many packaged sunflower seeds in the market, among which the most famous one was “Fool Sunflower Seeds”(傻子瓜子).

The founder of Fool Sunflower Seeds, Nian guangjiu, had been sentenced for trying to start his own business before China’s reform and opening up. Before the reform and opening up, the private economy was illegal in China.

Fool Sunflower Seeds

After the reform and opening up, he was quickly released, and was called “China’s No.1 Merchant” by former China President Deng Xiaoping . Fool Sunflower Seeds, founded after Nian was released from prison for a long time, became famous by being included in Deng Xiaoping’s Collection of works.

Another Mr.Liu Sunflower Seeds(小刘瓜子) also achieved good results at that time. But the real popularity of packaged sunflower seeds began with the creation of Chacha(洽洽).

Chacha was not a company at first, but a brand of another company. It was established in 1999. An important reason for winning the competition is that its founder borrowed money to put an advertisement worth 4 million dollars in CCTV. For the start-up companies of that era, it was an astronomical number.

But it’s obvious that it worked. In 2000, the sales income of Chacha exceeded 100 million yuan, and reached 400 million yuan in 2002. This is the growth rate that other competitors can’t imagine. By 2018, Chacha has accounted for 40% of China’s packaging Sunflower Seeds market, with annual sales of more than 4 billion RMB.

At present, Chacha sells more than 300 million yuan of sunflower seeds overseas every year, with a growth rate of over 30%. It is making more and more foreign diners fall in love with sunflower seeds.

Why is Chacha Sunflower Seeds successful?

Chen Xianbao in 2016 via Cha Cha

Chen Xianbao, born in 1959, is the founder of Chacha Sunflower Seeds. Before he started his business, he was a civil servant in China.

In 1995, the 36-year-old Chen was already the section chief of the Anhui Provincial Department of Commerce. For Chinese officials of this era, this is a period of career advancement. But because of the Chinese government’s full embrace of the market economy, he decided to resign and start a business.

His earliest business was called Hefei Huatai, and the company initially launched a ice pop series. In order to avoid market competition, Chen decided to sell his ice pop to the non-mainstream market in the northeast. The weather is cold there, and theoretically people seldom eat ice cream, so many cold drink companies do not noticed this potential market.

This decision made the company’s ice pop a great success that year, and accumulated a lot of money.

This kind of ice pop is very popular among Chinese children in the 1990s. But no one cares about its brand.

In 1998, due to the lack of market supervision, intellectual infringement in the ice cream market was very serious. Huatai’s ice pop were copied by many illegal businesses, and the company was forced to transform.

In the spring of that year, the Anhui provincial government held a party for entrepreneurs, at which many people sat together chatting and eating sunflower seeds. Some people said, “Sunflower Seed is delicious, but it is easy to get your hands dirty.”

This sentence made Chen aware of this business opportunity. After on-the-spot investigation and experiments many times, he decided to replace fried sunflower seeds with boiled sunflower seeds as the main product. This decision distinguishes it from other packaged food versions on the market.

First of all, in the process of boiling melon seeds, more seasonings can be added to make the taste of sunflower seeds richer, such as milk, herbal tea or spiced. This has brought a new experience to this traditional snack with hundreds of years of history. Until now, you can even buy Chacha Sunflower Seeds flavored with cheese, caramel and sea salt.

Secondly, in traditional Chinese medical theory, sunflower seeds is a kind of yeet hay food. Eating too much yeet hay food can cause a sore throat, toothache or acne. Boiling instead of frying removes this property of food in traditional medical theory.

Finally, boiled melon seeds are cleaner than fried sunflower seeds, with no tar and black silica grain residue, which solves the problem that hands get dirty during eating sunflower seeds and expands the eating scene.

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This concern for the product itself is not only reflected in the improvement of cooking methods, but also in the quality. At the beginning of 21st century, many foods in China had food safety and quality problems. However, there has never been a problem with Sunflower Seeds in Cha Cha, and the quality of sunflower seeds in Cha Cha was especially praised in the 2007 General Survey of Packaging Sunflower Seeds by AQSIQ.

In addition to the improvement of the product itself, another reason for, Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds’s success is the investment in brand marketing.

It is rumored that the name, Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds does come from the Latin dance Cha-Cha-Cha. The name is meant to express the rhythm of, eat sunflower seeds, just like Cha-Cha-Cha.

Besides, its founder spent a lot of money on CCTV’s advertising in the early stage of its business. The packaging of Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds is also the most recognizable of all packaged sunflower seeds.

It is different from the general preference for the use of bright plastic paper for packaged food in China at the beginning of the 21st century. At the beginning of its launch, Cha Cha was packed in grayish-yellow paper bags similar to newspapers. This has greatly attracted consumers who used to buy Sunflower Seeds in local nut shops. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, these shops have been packing nuts with old newspaper.

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In the early days, Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds would also add a “culture card” to the packaging, which has a number of different series, including Tang Poetry, Song Poems and Zhu Deyong’s cartoons.
In the past, one of the main characteristics of nut products was that it was difficult for consumers to remember a specific brand. But Cha Cha’s differences in packaging and marketing campaign give it brand recognition.

Cha Cha became the largest Sunflower Seeds producer in China in 2008, but it has suffered setbacks for developers of other snacks. During that time, Cha Cha acquired many other companies and tried to develop its own new snacks, such as oddly flavored nuts, potato chips and jellies. This strategy is called diversification strategy.

These categories are all mature markets, but they have not changed much in recent years, just like sunflower seeds. Cha Cha tried to replicate its innovative model in the Sunflower Seeds to achieve success, but failed, and the diversification strategy failed in 2015.

Its founder, Mr. Chen Xianbao, returned as general manager of the company a few years after retirement and focused the company’s business on sunflower seeds and nuts. Introduced many different Sunflower Seeds and high-end series suitable for young people’s tastes, and tried to get young people to like nuts again.

Cha Cha launched “Sunflower Seeds Skin Care Mask” with a Chinese cosmetics brand in March 2019;, Cha Cha and Taiping Bird launched joint clothing in last April; and, Cha Cha and Louis Vuitton jointly launched a nut gift box in last October.

In recent years, with the development of e-commerce, Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds has ushered in many strong competitors.Like, Bestore established in 2006, The Three Squirrels in 2012, and Herb Flavor acquired by Pepsi. Those are Cha Cha Sunflower Seeds’s strong competitors in the Chinese nut market.

Although Cha Cha lags behind these rising stars in other nut sales, mentioning Sunflower Seeds, Cha Cha is still the most worthwhile Chinese brand to buy.




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