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Expanded Menus and Healthy Options Dominate Guangzhou Food Show

Mainland food franchises are expanding their menus well beyond their core offerings, according to exhibitors and buyers at the Guangzhou International Food & Beverage Franchise Exhibition, while many healthier options also proved a hit.

Photo: Delicate dishes from Toufull Town.
Delicate dishes from Toufull Town.
Photo: Delicate dishes from Toufull Town.
Delicate dishes from Toufull Town.

A strong aroma of delicate dim sum and fresh coffee greeted visitors to this year's Guangzhou International Food & Beverage Franchise Exhibition, while an array of tempting hotpots also vied for their attention. The allure of the products was, of course, only further enhanced by the surprisingly low prices on offer.

Fusion Business

One thing that was clearly apparent this year was that many chain caterer brands are now also providing additional food items beyond their core offerings. This fusion business has allowed them to expand their appeal and customer base considerably.

Toufull Town (Doufu Huacheng) is a subsidiary of Taiwan's Wanwei International, and operates as a chain caterer brand, offering bean curd jelly, Taiwanese delicacies, desserts and beverages. According to Tsai Ping-hong, the company's Vice-president, Toufull Town entered the mainland market in 2009 and now has branded stores in Xian, Chongqing, Wuhan, Foshan and Shenzhen.

The Toufull Town franchise stores in China are said to be medium-sized, comprising an average floor area of 120 square metres. These stores offer not only desserts, but also selected side dishes, notably Taiwanese beef noodles and stewed pork rice, in order to cater to the preferences of mainland consumers.

A Toufull Town dessert store franchise costs about Rmb700,000-800,000 to operate. In the case of the fusion stores, a higher outlay is involved – with, typically, between Rmb1 million and Rmb1.2 million required to cover the costs of store decoration, equipment and training. The franchise stores are generally expected to recoup their investment over an 18-month to two-year period.

Excellent (Yaselin), a tea-room chain, represented another Taiwan-backed franchising opportunity. Chiang Cheng-hong, President of Teamama Industrial, Excellent's parent company, said its business model offers customers breads, desserts and sushi, on top of its signature teas. In terms of beverages alone, the company had more than 100 varieties on offer.

According to Chiang, taking on an Excellent franchise would involve an investment of around Rmb200,000-300,000, a sum that should be recoverable within a year.

Photo: Excellent: Specialising in teas and desserts.
Excellent: Specialising in teas and desserts.
Photo: Excellent: Specialising in teas and desserts.
Excellent: Specialising in teas and desserts.
Photo: Maoo: Cat-friendly coffee.
Maoo: Cat-friendly coffee.
Photo: Maoo: Cat-friendly coffee.
Maoo: Cat-friendly coffee.

Overall, it was felt that chain caterers that have a particular specialty are more likely to woo consumers. One beneficiary of this has been Maoo Coffee, the trading name of Maowo, a Dalian-based catering management company. It operates a chain of pet-themed coffee shops across the mainland.

The first Maoo Coffee outlet was opened in Hangzhou in 1998. In 2014, it officially joined China's chain store industry with the addition of a number of new stores. Zhao Ruoyun, the company's Vice-president, says one of the unique elements of its cafes is that they are all home to a number of cats, all of which are free mingle with customers while they enjoy their coffee. The shop also serves a rich variety of western fare.

The cost of a Maoo Coffee franchise is said to start from as little as Rmb200,000 up to several million Rmb. Zhao says that, even by conservative estimates, this should be recoverable within a year.

Natural and Fresh

With many Chinese consumers having become increasingly concerned about health and nutrition over recent years, exhibitors at this year's show had clearly taken this on board. One company making particular strides in this sector was Guangxi's Bama Original Miniature Pig Agriculture and Husbandry.

With a variety of Bama pork products on display, Wei Chunlian, the company's Sales Manager, was quick to establish their health credentials. He said Bama pigs are fed with five-cereal grains and underground water, while also being allowed to graze on open pastureland. These pigs only grow to a weight of 40kg over a 10-month period, compared to ordinary pigs that can weigh more than 150kg when just four-months-old. In light of this, the Bama pigs have a fleshy and less fatty meat, while also being lower in calories.

According to Wei, Bama pigs would pass any tests required to confirm they were entirely free of drug residues. The company mainly sells fresh pork, but also processes it into sausages and air-dried meats.

Excellent, too, has prioritised health issues. According to the company, it sources natural tea solely from Taiwan's Alishan Mountain. According to Chiang, all the ingredients come from its own tea and coffee farms, while its additive-free tea products are all natural and health-enhancing.

Not to be outdone, Toufull Town also claims to offer desserts tailored to customers' nutritional and health requirements. Tsai said all of the company's signature bean curd jelly products are hand-made from non-genetically-modified soya beans.

Consumer-friendly Prices

While the food and beverage industry is keen to promote its use of high-quality ingredients, it is also well aware of the importance of competitive pricing. From the prices on offer from Wanwei International, it is clear that its products, for instance, are hugely affordable.

Photo: Value for money: Competitively priced pastries.
Value for money: Competitively priced pastries.
Photo: Value for money: Competitively priced pastries.
Value for money: Competitively priced pastries.

Among its range of Taiwanese delicacies – traditional bean curd jellies, puddings and beverages – the cheapest item on offer is a vegetable dish costing just Rmb7. The company's core products – its Taipei, Taichung and Tainan bean curd jellies – are all sold at Rmb18 each, while the most expensive item on its menu sells for just Rmb29.

Tsai said his company aims to introduce new products every season, while maintaining prices at a consumer-friendly level of around Rmb10-20. Toufull Town has also adopted a standardised management model, while its dedicated R&D team is also looking to develop new specialty products, many of them designed to take into account a variety of regional preferences. For instance, the chain brand sells spicy bean curd jelly in Sichuan, while in northern China it offers salty bean curd jelly.

In the case of Bama Original Miniature Pig Agriculture and Husbandry, Wei said that it only produces high-end meat products. Despite this – and in light of the current slowing economic climate – its retail prices have been adjusted downwards in order to attract more customers.

Smart Operations

Aside from actual produce, the event also showcased a selection of the latest technology available for the catering sector. Changchun-based Mingrui took a lead here with the debut of its smart catering system. Li Tiantong, the company's Chief Engineer, said the system offers a host of new smart applications, all geared to the needs of the catering industry.

According to Li, this smart system tackles food ordering and food delivery problems by making the whole process highly transparent. It also allows for a standardised service to be offered across both conventional outlets and online channels. Without requiring the intervention of any waiting staff, consumers can directly place a food order at their table via a touch screen. The selected dishes can then be delivered to the diner's table via an enclosed channel equipped with an array of monitoring equipment, including biosensors, photo-electric sensors, and an ultraviolet light steriliser. All of these have been designed to ensure the system runs efficiently and safely.

For Li, the next step is to add a table clearance function into the mix. When diners have finished their meals, such a system would automatically dispose of any leftovers, bringing the concept of an unmanned restaurant one step closer to reality. Chain restaurants using this system are able to monitor all of their franchise stores' operating status online. At present, the system costs around Rmb5,000 per table setting, with the price including a table, a food ordering system, a delivery system and a transfer-from-kitchen system.

Photo: Smart dining: The waiterless restaurant awaits.
Smart dining: The waiterless restaurant awaits.
Photo: Smart dining: The waiterless restaurant awaits.
Smart dining: The waiterless restaurant awaits.

Taking a similarly high-tech approach was Vesta (Guangzhou) Catering Equipment, attending the event to promote its all-in-one oven. The new unit, which occupies around one square metre of floor space, features a smart touch-screen control panel. It has been designed to accommodate a variety of cooking methods popular in Chinese cuisine, including steaming, roasting, simmering, stewing, baking and pan-frying.

Deng Qiangbang, the company's Senior Chef, said the oven is suitable for the preparation of some 300 different dishes. Not only is it highly efficient, it is also said to guarantee consistent quality. To date, purchasers of the oven have typically been large-scale chain restaurant groups.

Citing a particular example of the efficiency of the oven, Deng said its 10-roasting tray design means up to 420 chicken wings can be cooked within 10 minutes, with each tray capable of holding up to 42 pieces.

On the e-commerce front, Guangzhou's Sheng Ying Hui, was attending the event to promote its range of integrated solutions for food and beverage distributors. At present, the company offers 4,000 different products, including vegetables, fruit, meat, frozen foods, seafood, and imported foods.

Fu Manli, the company's Marketing Manager, said, at the moment, Sheng Ying Hui only services consumers in Guangzhou. Its operating model sees consumers place orders via the company's WeChat public account and then receive their food items the next day. Through its community O2O model, consumers can pick up their orders at one of its 20 outlets in Guangzhou. This ordering and delivery arrangement not only keeps prices low, but is also said to guarantee the freshness of the produce.

Other notable exhibitors at the event included the Comcle chain of hotpot restaurants. Specialising in offering Sichuan-style soup bases, the chain is a subsidiary of Pinyu, a Guangzhou-based catering management company.

Photo: Comcle: Spicy hotpot specialist.
Comcle: Spicy hotpot specialist.
Photo: Comcle: Spicy hotpot specialist.
Comcle: Spicy hotpot specialist.

Also attracting considerable attention was Tilamisu, a catering equipment manufacturer from Zhongshan. This year the company was showcasing its popular range of cabinet freezers, all equipped with a 3D refrigeration system.

In terms of produce, three other suppliers enjoyed a notably high profile. Hubei's Runjing attracted a number of buyers for its mildly alkaline-tasting Wudang Mountain Spring Water, while Guangzhou's Nine & Nine Food was offering an enticing range of fish ball products. Finally, Shenzhen-based Haorilai rolled out its "moonlight treasure box" of moon cakes, packaged in a cylindrical case designed for later use as a vase.

The 2015 Guangzhou International Food & Beverage Franchise Exhibition took place at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex in late August. The event featured 1,580 exhibition stands.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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