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Traditional mooncakes now find virtual outlets

[ 2009-09-15 13:45]     字号 [] [] []  
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The number of online mooncake shops has risen sharply as Chinese young people turn to them when seeking presents to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

They have discovered the Internet offers a personalized service, cheaper prices and faster delivery than traditional outlets.

Shi Jian, 33, general manager of Zhejiang-based Stone Master Food Shop, said he was delighted to see sales triple compared with last year as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Oct 3 this year, draws near.

Shi launched his virtual mooncake business two years ago and in August developed a customized service costing 98 yuan. This involves printing photos provided by customers on packing boxes and including their personalized messages to relatives and friends.

As an added twist, the packing box with its photo can be folded into a neat frame after its contents have been eaten.

"A lot of customers told me the frame design was a very thoughtful and touching gesture for their loved ones far away," said Shi. He plans to be more creative next year when he intends to allow customers to choose the shape of their cakes. He is hoping sales will triple again.

Many of Shi's online competitors have already filled the market with customized shapes, labels and ingredients. Popular cartoon characters such as Doraemon and Big Big Wolf smile brightly from their designs. Special ingredients have also been used for the fillings, such as nuts, eggs, red date paste, bean paste and lotus paste.

From Sept 1 to 6, sales of mooncakes at taobao.com, the most successful consumer-to-consumer online retail marketplace in China, reached 6 million yuan, 20 percent up on last year. The age of customers ranged between 20 and 40.

Li Yujie, 27, who is studying for a doctorate at Renmin University of China in Beijing, bought a box of mooncakes for her family in Sichuan province last week. She said the cheaper price and direct delivery service were what attracted her to going online.

Although young people are attracted to online sales outlets, experts have warned of the risks of buying mooncakes through the Internet, where the quality and origin cannot be guaranteed as easily as they can in ordinary shops.

"Mooncakes have a short storage life, especially ones with nuts and lotus paste," said Sun Jianqin, director of the nutritional department of East China Hospital.

Taobao requires every retailer to register as an enterprise legally before opening to the public online and to have a quality and safety assurance issued by the government.

Shi admitted there were many shops online that lacked official approval.

"It doesn't matter. As an online buyer, I know how to choose goods of good quality and protect my rights," the Renmin University student Li said.

One boon for the online retailer is that some organizations have started to buy customized mooncakes for their staff this year.

A futures company in Zhejiang province has just booked nearly 300 boxes of mooncakes from Stone Master, hoping to have their logo, images, messages and slogans on the packing.

"Perhaps I should promote car-shaped cakes next year, to attract vehicle companies as well as ordinary consumers," pondered Shi.

(英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Traditional mooncakes now find virtual outlets

About the broadcaster:

Traditional mooncakes now find virtual outlets

Chantal Anderson is a multimedia journalist at the China Daily Web site. Originally from Seattle, Washington she has found her way around the world doing photo essays in Greece, Mexico and Thailand. She is currently completing a double degree in Journalism and International Studies from the University of Washington.