Cakes take the bite of packaging
Shaped like a full moon, mooncakes stuffed with white lotus
paste, yam or yolks, served during the Mid-Autumn, or Moon Festival, symbolize
the reunion of family and friends in traditional Chinese culture.
However, the tradition, more than 1,000 years old, has been
much eclipsed in recent years as overpackaging has made the mooncake and its
symbolic meaning merely a side dish to an extravagant trend.
Manufacturers have been racking their brains to add value to
the once homely snack. Apart from using pricey ingredients for fillings, most
manufacturers have resorted to overpackaging their products, "to gain face for
gift-givers and receivers."
Hence, inside the luxury containers, sometimes made from
rare wood, glass or high-quality paper, French wines, watches, tea sets and even
pearls can today be found alongside the humble mooncake.
Prices are also soaring, with high-end products in Beijing
costing between 300 yuan (US$36) and 1,000 yuan (US$120) a box.
Some of the more exotic and pricey mooncakes include those
filled with shark fin or packaged with gold bars and carry a price tag of 9,999
yuan (US$1,210). The hefty price of such mooncakes has led to speculation that
they will most probably be bought and given as inducements.
Most consumers, however, say they will not buy the novel
mooncakes dreamt up by manufacturers to increase sales and profits.
"Over the years the custom has changed -- it used to be
festival delicacies for families, but now it has become gifts from corporate
partners to their clients," said Liang Juxiang, 46, a primary school teacher.
She said that elaborate packaging has pushed up the cost of
"I like eating mooncake because it is part of the mid-autumn
festival tradition and it tastes really good," said Liang. But added: "For
myself and the family, I will buy the mooncake which comes simply packaged. Its
price is much closer to its actual value."
Liang said the cost of accompanying items included in the
luxury mooncake boxes is several dozen times higher than the simpler variety.
"Why should I to pay so much to buy red wine or tea pots
inside mooncake boxes?" she remarked.
A simply packaged mooncake with one egg yolk and white lotus
paste normally costs seven (US$0.85) to 12 yuan (US$1.45). But, when it comes
wrapped in a fancy box, the price soars to hundreds of yuan.
A survey conducted by the Shanghai Horizon Research Group,
revealed that more than 29 per cent of the respondents said they plan to spend
less than 100 yuan (US$12) on mooncakes.
Those surveyed were 437 Shanghai residents, aged 18 to 59.
Nearly 29 per cent said that they would not be spending
anything on mooncakes as they would be given more than enough by friends and
Around 82 per cent considered mooncakes were overpackaged
and extravagant, while 70 per cent thought it would be necessary for the
government to set rules on mooncake packaging to curb the trend.
Yan Xiaocui, a sales representative with a Beijing-based
mooncake manufacturer said there is a demand for exotic mooncakes that it will
continue to cater for.
She said the business of mooncakes is a highly competitive
one. Every manufacturer is trying to offer something new.
"The mooncake is only available during the Mid-Autumn
Festival," she said. "It is a symbol of culture now. Fancy mooncakes are popular
because they are purchased and given as gifts. People always like luxury
packaging on a gift, don't they?"
Her customers include large companies who order expensive
mooncakes to give to partners and clients, said Yan.
The rising price of raw materials in recent years had also
contributed to the hike in the price of mooncakes.
"The target customers of the lavishly packaged mooncakes are
companies, but we also offer mooncakes of high quality yet low price to the
general public," said Zhang.
A box of four mooncakes costing around 60 yuan (US$7.20) is
what the general public tends to go for, she added.
Overseas firms are also trying to cash in on the market. For
example Starbucks have coffee flavoured mooncakes and Haagen Dazs an ice cream
"I will not buy them myself, but I am happy if someone give
me a box of luxury (Haagen Dazs) mooncakes... I am crazy about the boxes," said
Xiao Lin, a media professional in Beijing who was presented with an ice-cream
mooncake beautifully boxed.
"It is a very interesting and pretty box and can be used as
a vanity box and so on," she said.
Wu Gaohan, deputy secretary-general of the China Consumers
Association said that overpackaged commodities have harmed consumers.
"It has hampered sustainable consumption and production and
is a waste of energy and resources," said Wu.
Under international norms, the cost of packaging should not
exceed 15 per cent of the total value of the product.
In the case of some mooncakes, packaging accounts for a
staggering 70 per cent or more of the total.
China currently has no laws or regulations to govern this
"As long as the package carries the producer's name, expiry
date and such, legal action cannot be taken against the manufacturer, there is
no penalty for overpackaging," said Dai Wei, an official with the association's
legal affairs department.
The United States and Japan, along with some other
countries, have introduced packaging regulations.
Wu urged the government attention to address the problem and
introduce legislation to deal with it.
When given a choice, Wu said, people should opt for the
product that has the least or no packaging.
Environmentalists are also increasingly concerned about the
amount of waste generated by overpackaged articles.
In Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, volunteers from
12 universities called on local residents to boycott over-packaged mooncakes.
The environmental campaigners highlighted the fact that
excessive packaging accounts for 20 per cent of the daily rubbish collected in
For every 10 million boxes of mooncakes 400 to 600 trees
need to be cut down, their research revealed.
"Great waste reduction is possible in this area with very
little effort," said Xiong Xibei, an English teacher at the university and a
strong supporter of the students campaign.
In the south of China, in Hong Kong, a programme has been
launched to recycle empty mooncake packaging after the festival reports Hong
Kong's information department.
Booths will be set up at 12 shopping centres from Saturday
where people can leave them.