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Near-expired food a new fad among young consumers

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-07-08 11:37
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Shoppers pick up snacks at a convenience store in Shanghai in May. [Photo provided to China Daily]

HEFEI - Every week, Wu Lin, a 19-year-old college student would queue up at a store specializing in selling food nearing their expiration date, and return to the dorm with a bag of discounted snacks.

"These near-expired goods are usually sold at 30 percent to 50 percent of the market price and many of these goods are from big brands, which is very appealing to me," she said.

Wu is among a growing number of young Chinese who buy near-expired food at reduced prices, a practice that has been spurred by a more rational consumption concept and the adoption of the anti-food-waste law in the country in April.

China's near-expired food market exceeded 30 billion yuan (about $4.64 billion) in 2020 and 47.8 percent of the consumers are aged 26 to 35, showed a report by iiMedia Research, a Chinese consulting agency.

Over 70,000 young people share tips on buying near-expired food every day on an online community called "I love near-expired food."

Unlike the traditional thinking that buying such goods is penny-pinching or embarrassing, more and more young people like Wu regard it as a kind of sustainable consumption that can help curb food waste.

"I don't care much about the date as long as I can eat before its expiry. It meets my demand while saving resources and protecting the environment, which is a good thing," said Wu.

Food waste is a global issue and has aggravated world hunger. The value of yearly food losses and waste worldwide was estimated at $400 billion, Maximo Torero, chief economist with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, told Xinhua in late 2020. China is also faced with the problem of food waste, especially in the urban catering industry.

Li Yunjing, a sales clerk at a shop exclusively selling near-expired food in Hefei, East China's Anhui province, used to work in a supermarket. She was often perturbed by the waste of products.

"A mass of expired and near-expired products were disposed of or destroyed directly, which was a great loss," said Li, adding that the emergence of such shops selling near-expired products can mitigate the waste to some extent.

Brick-and-mortar shops selling food nearing the expiry date have mushroomed in cities across China. HotMaxx, a chain store that opened last year in major Chinese cities, has expanded to more than 200 outlets across the country.

"The busiest shop in downtown Hefei witnesses more than 1,000 people a day during the peak season and many are returning customers," said a worker surnamed Zhou who is in charge of marketing at a HotMaxx outlet in Hefei.

To ensure the safety and quality of the goods, the shop places high demands on the suppliers.

"We usually tie up with well-known supermarkets and brands to get quality goods and eliminate unqualified suppliers based on the sampling inspection and consumer feedbacks," said Zhou.

Online shops selling near-expired food are growing rapidly, too. Statistics from the e-commerce platform Taobao showed that some 2.1 million people buy such food on the platform every year.

"There are even online shops selling blind boxes full of near-expired food, which sell like hotcakes," said the college student Wu.

From a safety perspective, which may concern many consumers, experts believe that such products won't do any harm.

"Near-expired food is safe and buying these products is a good practice to help prevent waste of resources, which should be encouraged," said Zhou Yu, a professor of food nutrition and safety at Anhui Agricultural University.

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