There’s a famous Chinese poem that’s widely quoted during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Loosely translated, it says that humans experience sorrow and joy, meet and depart, as the moon waxes and wanes, on days gloomy or shiny.
But for mooncake bakers and sellers, the forecast for this year’s festival, falling on Sept 19, is gloomy. Sales of the staple snack, enjoyed since ancient times, are on the wane.
Although the holiday is still more than two weeks away, sales are dropping at bakeries, restaurants and five-star hotels that used to make a windfall from selling the traditional holiday gift.
A salesman at a five-star hotel in Shanghai, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Shanghai Evening Post that with the “eight rules”, the good times are over.
The “eight rules”, implemented by the Communist Party of China Central Committee at the end of last year, emphasize austerity and the drive for a cleaner government.
To emphasize the central government’s effort to combat corruption and extravagance, on Aug 22, the CPC’s disciplinary authority issued a notice strictly prohibiting the use of government funds to buy mooncake gifts during the Mid-Autumn Festival and the forthcoming National Day holiday, which runs from Oct 1 to 7.
On Wednesday, Feng En-yuan, the secretary-general of the China Cuisine Association, said at a news conference held by the Ministry of Commerce that mooncake sales are mainly targeted at the mass market, and simply packed, or even “naked mooncakes”, should become the norm.
“It’s a heavy blow,” said Feng Fusheng, deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai Confectionary Industry Association. According to Feng, at least 40 percent of mooncake sales were formerly accounted for by bulk purchases by companies and institutions as gifts for clients.
Although it is hard to say how much of the 40 percent will “disappear”, Feng estimated that mooncake sales are already down 20 percent.
Sales at five-star hotels may be down even more. A manager of a mooncake factory in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, told the local newspaper, Modern Express, that orders from five-star hotels are down 30 percent year-on-year.
In Shanghai, some five-star hotels have sold less than 30 percent of their mooncake coupons, even though these haughty establishments are offering discounts of up to 40 percent, the Shanghai Evening Post reported.
The China Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry estimates that 280,000 tons of mooncakes will be baked this year, and sales are likely to exceed 16 billion yuan ($2.6 billion).
But because of higher material and labor costs, which the association estimates are up 10 percent, and the central government’s policies, sales are likely to show a 20 percent decline.