Chocolate conquering China

Award-winning French dessert chef Hugues Pouget has his work cut out for him as he tries to turn the Chinese into chocoholics.

by: Reuters | 03 Jul 2008

Lured by a huge potential market, Barry Callebaut, the world's biggest chocolate maker, moved its Asia headquarters to China from Singapore and brought Pouget to its Chocolate Academy in Suzhou, a city of quaint ancient pavilions and acres of new factories about 90 minutes' drive from Shanghai.

The Swiss company hopes that chocolate recipes cooked up at the academy, its second in Asia after a Singapore centre, can tempt Chinese consumers to gobble up the 25,000 metric tons of chocolate a year it will be churning out at a nearby factory.

Major global chocolate brands such as the Hershey Company and Cadbury Plc, already Barry Callebaut clients in other parts of the world, have swarmed to China.

China's 6.46 billion yuan a year ($922 million) chocolate market is less than 1 percent of the world's total.

Today, an average Chinese eats only 100 grams of chocolate a year, with consumption concentrated in affluent coastal cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

China's chocolate nibblers today are mostly young people aged 15 to 24, according to a survey by Sinomonitor. Young affluent Chinese might be developing a sweet tooth, but the taste buds of most Chinese favour salty foods.

Pleasing the palate
Hershey, which last year created green tea-flavoured "kisses" for the Asian market, will open a Chocolate World flagship store in Shanghai in the next couple of months.

Pleasing the Chinese palate remains the key to long-term success, providing chocolate makers with a culinary challenge as Chinese taste buds range from favouring hot and spicy food in the Sichuan region of central China to a preference for sour food in the north-eastern provinces.

"Koreans like a sour taste, but Chinese are very different," said Lee Kwang-Hoon, president of the Chinese unit of South Korea's Lotte, which started selling chocolate in China last year.

"The challenge is not to make quality chocolates, but to understand what Chinese really like," he

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