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Mooncake culture in China

How brands are biting into Chinese mooncake culture

Every mid-autumn festival Chinese people celebrate by spending time with their loved ones while exchanging and eating mooncakes, densely baked pastries that come with a wide variety of fillings. The festival is deeply rooted in ancient tradition and there are several legends about its origin, but the most convincing explanation is that it is closely related to seasonal harvest.

In ancient times, Chinese emperors worshipped heavenly bodies, and gatherings and feasts were held every autumn to ask the moon for abundant crops. In 2019, Chinese mooncakes generated roughly 19.7 billion RMB, recording a 7.9% year-on-year rise, and about 1.4 billion mooncakes were sold, equivalent to one mooncake a person. Beyond being shared among relatives, friends and lovers, around Mid-autumn festival Chinese companies usually give mooncakes as a present to their employees. According to Datagoo, over 19% of interviewed people in 2020 had no intention to purchase any mooncake, since they would have been given one by their company, while 39.8% of them were going to buy them for themselves.

Mixing tradition with innovation

Even though Chinese mooncakes are intertwined with ancient tradition, there is plenty of room for innovation.

New flavors

Quality and taste are the main factors affecting buying decisions, nevertheless, traditional flavors such as red beans, egg yolk, dried meat, sesame, and plums are getting increasingly less appealing for young Chinese consumers. Therefore, experimenting and daring are now key attitudes when coming up with new mooncake aromas. Chocolate, seafood, ice cream and cranberry are just some of the flavors giving shape to the diverse constellation of new fillings in Chinese mooncakes. While classical flavors are popular among all age groups, cheese and matcha tea are within the top 5 favorite flavors of Chinese young consumers.

Trendy packages

As Chinese consumers mostly purchase mooncakes in brick-and-mortar stores, creative packaging is key to make them stand out and catch customers’ attention. Moreover, Chinese tech giants tend to turn to design companies since they consider mooncakes as a vehicle for conveying corporate culture and brand values. In their attempt to attract Chinese Millennial and Gen-Z consumers, today mooncake manufacturers mainly draw inspiration from the web: Guochao, secret gift boxes and collaborations with cartoon characters of the recent past are currently the main trends in China’s mooncake market.

Guochao mooncake packaging

Source: Weibo, 粤鸣东方月 opted for a Guochao packaging, mixing the old with the new

Mooncakes and health

The covid-19 pandemic led Chinese consumers to pay greater attention to health. Such growing health awareness affected the world of mooncakes as well. While traditional mooncakes usually weigh between 180 and 250gr, many brands reduced the size of their cakes up to 50-80 gr. Furthermore, along with a smaller size, producers started providing their customers with low calorie, low sugar, and probiotics rich mooncakes. In addition, both Chinese and international food companies, such as Nestlé, Oatly and Twinkling Powder, cooperated with bakery brands to launch their innovative plant-based Mid-autumn mooncakes.

Source: Weibo, Oatly collaborated with Chinese popular chocolate brand Chocday

Foreign luxury brands release their own mooncakes

Mid-autumn Festival is a great opportunity to engage with Chinese consumers and show commitment to the Chinese market, thus it is not surprising that big fashion names decided to launch their own mooncake gift boxes as well. This year’s Dior gift box contains 8 small mooncakes with the letter “C” and “D” stamped on them. There is also a Chinese traditional fan decorated with golden flowers and all the signs of the Western zodiac with the respective constellation. The box is adorned with the constellations of the Western zodiac as well.

Gucci’s Mid-autumn gift box has as its theme the legend of the moon rabbit instead. An ancient story goes that three deities decided to reward a rabbit who offered his life to feed them by sending him on the moon and granting him immortality. Four small boxes depicting scenes from this legend envelope as many mooncakes engraving two Gs. Gucci’s box is designed to remind an old carillon with a rabbit in lieu of the usual ballet dancer. The outside of the box is bright orange, while the inside is dark green.

Source: Weibo, 2021 Dior mooncake gift box

A new phase for Chinese mooncake culture

  • Nowadays, mooncakes in China combine tradition and modernity. Along with classical fillings, new flavors have emerged to capture the attention of young consumers.
  • Design packaging is both a tool to make mooncakes stand out on the shelves and a vehicle for corporate values. Guochao, secret gift boxes and collaborations with cartoon characters are trending in China’s mooncake market.
  • Growing health awareness in China is pushing mooncake producers to launch smaller-sized, low-calorie, low-sugar and plant-based versions of the popular Mid-autumn dessert.
  • International luxury brands did not miss this year’s Mid-autumn Festival to engage with Chinese consumers and pamper them. For this reason, Gucci and Dior launched their own set of creative and stylish mooncake gift boxes.

Learn more about Guochao marketing in China