A bite of China

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-16 18:53:01

The exporting of snacks to foreign countries is gaining popularity

There is a growing demand for Chinese snacks among foreigners living abroad. Photo: Li Hao/GT

American college student Charlene Kolenda counts down the days every month for the arrival  of her next parcel from China. These parcels, which take weeks to arrive in the US, contain her new favorite snack, braised spicy duck neck.

"Once you start eating these things you can't stop. It's almost like they're addictive," explains Kolenda.

Braised spicy duck neck is just one of the many Chinese snacks which are starting to gain a following overseas. In the past year, numerous Chinese vendors have started opening stores on the US website Amazon to meet this new demand.

"I started to sell Chinese local snacks overseas at the end of last year, and since then I have sold almost one million packages of them," said 24-year-old Meng Yanni from Yichun, Jiangxi Province. Meng's store named Markgo, turns a profit of 100,000 yuan ($16,300) a month on Amazon by selling spicy slices made of beans and beef tendons, chicken feet, crispy sausages and other snacks that are rather cheap and unsophisticated but quite popular in China.

Meng recognized the potential in exporting these snacks after her Chinese friends living abroad had complained that such foods were unavailable in foreign markets. However, Meng's customer base has extended beyond just Chinese expats looking for a taste of home.

"Since the store was launched, I have found that 10 out of every 100 customers are foreigners, mainly from the US, Australia and New Zealand," revealed Meng.

Kolenda is one such foreigner that has become a die-hard fan of Markgo since the store was launched.

"My college roommate is a Chinese girl who recommended the Chinese braised duck neck. And just like that, I was hooked," said Kolenda, who has grown bored of the usual corn and potato based Western snacks.

"My other favorite Chinese snack is pickled pepper chicken feet which are very hot and the flavor keeps you wanting more," she said.

Chinese snacks might be cheap within China, but overseas they can be a costly luxury. According to Meng, the 100-gram bag of pickled pepper chicken feet that she sells is priced no more than 4 yuan in China, but she charges $12 in America, shipping fee not included.

For John Thorne, a 71-year-old man from Los Angeles, his enthusiasm in Chinese snacks is not a cheap taste. For example, the American snack of chicken jerky which he usually has costs about $7 each 100 grams, compared to the $12 he spends on each 100 grams of Chinese chicken feet. "But with the flavor so unique, I don't mind paying a little extra," said Thorne.

"My favorite snacks are spicy duck neck and beef tendon. As a foodie, I can tell you this is good stuff," he said.

While Thorne is a strong advocate of such Chinese foods, he can understand why some Westerners might be turned off. Eating chicken feet or duck necks is not common in Western culture, explains Thorne.

"The trick for getting the most from the snacks is to chew slowly. That way you can eat almost everything while only chewing on one or two solid duck neck bones," he said. "The bones are moist, flavorful, with a recognizable taste of duck. It's amazing."

Despite the growing interest of Chinese snacks among foreigners, Meng can't deny the fact that most buyers are Chinese expats.

"Some Westerners are apprehensive when a package arrives from somewhere deep in China, because the food sold isn't accredited by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)," said Meng. "The safety concern is the biggest deterrent for foreigners in buying Chinese snacks."

The process of getting accredited by FDA is a complicated process, as the authority needs to examine the quality of the products, as well as the production process and where the ingredients come from.

It is very hard for local Chinese food producers to pass the American FDA examination, according to Feng Enyuan, deputy director of the China Cuisine Association.

"Chinese food producers could cooperate better with local American companies to transfer their food to foreign countries, so it would be easier for Chinese snacks to get accredited by the FDA," said Feng.

Feng also recommends that Chinese snack producers alter the taste and the culinary style of the food to suit a foreigner's tastes and step up promotion overseas.

"Only then will Chinese snacks stand a chance of becoming mainstream in overseas markets," concluded Feng.

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