7 June 2018
Home Baking Now the Hallmark of the Truly Well-Bread Mainlander
- Photo: A piece of the action: Mainland cake bakers look to score with World Cup confectionery.
- Photo: For Bake: Wuxi Bakeware’s home baking range.
- Photo: Multi-role bread rolls.
- Photo: Modernised mooncakes.
- Photo: Bake to the future: A sci-fi cake.
- Photo: In the gateau: Thrilling fillings.
- Photo: The future social media stars of Cakebook and Snackchat.
A love of making healthy food for the whole family has triggered a surge in the number of China's home bakers, with exhibitors at the China Bakery Exhibition looking to re-invent their ranges to better serve this fast-growing demographic.
Home bread makers and domestic cake divas were the toast of the recent China Bakery Exhibition, the Guangzhou-hosted event that bills itself as the mainland's first truly national showcase for ingredient producers and equipment manufacturers in the ever-burgeoning oven-cooked food sector. This year, the focus was very much on the country's growing army of home bakers, with many exhibitors keen to forefront products and supplies specifically geared to this rapidly expanding subsector.
This switch in focus to everyday consumers and away from the almost exclusively B2B promotions that typified the early days of this 22-year-old event is a reflection of the growing appetite of many mainlanders for baked products, especially homemade items that are free from any fears that food-safety protocols may have been compromised during their production. On top of that, there is the clear nostalgic allure that has led many to recreate the classic baked Chinese delicacies that were the staple fare of earlier times.
Healthy and Delicious
Among the many products specifically targeted at home bakers were moulds, cooking equipment, packaging / presentation materials and, most important of all, ingredients. Clearly assured of the ascendancy of the latter – although, pretty much, offering all of the above – was Dongxuan, a Guangzhou-based business that prides itself on being able to meet virtually every bakery need.
Outlining how the company had reassessed its product portfolio in light of the growing importance of the home-baking market, Sales Representative Ouyang Lun said: "This year, for the first time, we are offering 250g ingredient packages, a volume designed to appeal to home bakers and encourage them to experiment with new flavours. This is something of a departure for us as we had previously solely targeted professional bakeries and larger food manufacturers. Now, though, we have a dedicated home-baking division and are looking to make greater inroads into this particular sector."
Giving her own take as to why home baking has suddenly become quite so popular, she said: "With many mainland parents looking to spend more time with their children, home baking has become a shared family experience. Over time, though, people have looked to develop their skills, with many going on to take accredited baking courses, a development that has created something of a cottage industry.
"While, initially, many parents just wanted to bake good-quality food for their immediate family, they are now sharing surplus items with relatives, friends and neighbours. At the same time, many of the more skilled home bakers have started posting photographs of the cakes they are most proud of on WeChat, keen to share their achievements with their online contacts. Inevitably, this has led to some getting requests to make custom cakes via their social-media network, with their one-time hobby suddenly becoming a serious business proposition."
Another company to have put the home-baking sector firmly on its radar was Wuxi Bakeware, the Jiangsu-based business behind the recently launched For Bake home-baking range. Overall, the company offers a wide selection of products for China's part-time pastry chefs and cakemakers, including moulds, cookware, and toasting and pizza trays. It also manufactures a range of seasonal / novelty biscuit moulds, including Christmas trees, kittens, stars, bones and goldfish.
Sharing his view of the way the sector is evolving, Yang Yipu, Wuxi's Business Manager, said: "As mainland consumers seem increasingly fond of making their own bread and cakes, I can't help but be optimistic with regard to the future development of this sector, which seems to be far from reaching its peak. In line with that, we are just doing what we can to meet the needs of these home bakers."
Added Prebiotics and Fruit
While many of the more technically-minded attendees hungrily viewed the latest manufacturing innovations, among the less high-tech-adept it was the extensive range of premium-quality food on show that set them salivating, with even the healthier options having considerable palate appeal. Upon further investigation, it appeared that this transformation in the look and taste of the more health-conscious cuisine items was down to a growing penchant for prebiotics, fruit and coarse cereals to be baked into a wider range of commercially-produced foodstuffs.
Clearly guilty of this particular crime against ever-widening waistlines was MacGarden Foodstuff, a Guangzhou-based specialist in cake ingredients and other baking supplies. This year, it was looking to showcase its Qiaoyisi, Pinzhiran and Bailichun dairy product ranges.
Explaining both the appeal and the health benefits of these three lines, He Chi, the company's Regional Manager, said: "While each contains natural cream ingredients, they are made without the use of any artificial flavours or colourings. We do, however, add in prebiotic fructose, which enriches the dietary fibre content of the products. This, in turn, helps them to be properly absorbed into the digestive system, while allowing consumers to enjoy good food even as their health and nutrition gets a boost."
Similarly keen to use health benefits as a selling point was Sun Yitao, South China Regional Manager for Shandong-based Tianli Pharmaceutical's trehalose range of food products. Commenting on the new opportunities opening up in light of changing consumer preferences, he said: "Food that is low in sugar and oil content is now particularly popular among the more health-conscious consumers. As a direct consequence, our self-developed baking syrup, which is pure, smooth, not too sweet and has anti-acid reflux qualities, has proved a big hit with many bakeries and food manufacturers. It also has excellent moisture-retention properties, which acts as a natural preservative and helps extend the product's shelf life."
In the case of Dongxuan, the company has a policy of ensuring that all its baking ingredients comply with the relevant green standards. Explaining how this policy benefits the company, Ouyang said: "At this event, we have debuted a sugar-free line of mooncake fillings, including white lotus paste, chestnut and lion's mane mushroom. We are confident of their success in light of the growing consumer preference for high-fibre, low-sugar food."
While many western-style cakes and pastries were dotted around the event, an effective rear-guard action was in evidence from a substantial number of exhibitors which were keen to see traditional Chinese baked food restored to a central role in the nation's diet. A clear champion of the past glory of China's pastry products was Unicake Food, with the Wuhan-based producer featuring a wide range of classic Chinese delicacies on its stand, including salty egg yolk puff pastry, green tea puff pastry, snowflake puff pastry, red bean buns, durian puff pastry and barbecue pork puff pastry.
Assessing the wider appetite for these timeless treats, Lei Shouqiang, the company's South China Regional Manager, said: "We have found a ready market for our range of revived classic snacks. In particular, we have seen a real spike in sales in the run-up to traditional festivals, such as Chinese New Year."
Amid these revived classics, healthy offerings and home-baking products, there was also three companies that swam against the tide, seemingly attracting enthusiastic visitors to their stands while not appearing to follow any particular trend. Fair play then to Shanghai's Ginpar International Trading with its Roufeng organic wheat flour, Foshan's Zhengfeng Food with its pomelo golden flower cake and Guangzhou's Jinxiang Food with its memorably spicy beef fillings – all in all, a fitting tribute to the diversity of products on offer at this year's China Bakery Exhibition.
The 2018 China Bakery Exhibition took place from 23-26 May at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex. The event featured more than 800 domestic and overseas exhibitors.
Long Kui, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou