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Sweet memories bake a success

Xu Wei and Feng Zhiwei
Updated: Jan 5,2015 10:22 AM     China Daily

Let them eat cake: Adili Maimaititure (right) invites people in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, to taste a 2,015 kg Xinjiang nut cake made by his company.[Photo by He Wenbing/China Daily]

Online business formed to alter misperceptions of Xinjiang nut cake arising out of dispute

Adili Maimaititure had only one purpose in mind when he first opened an online store in 2012 to sell Xinjiang nut cake, inform ally called qiegao.

At the time, the sweet snack had become a subject of ridicule online after a dispute between a Uygur snack vendor and a customer prompted a fight that ended with the buyer paying 160,000 yuan ($26,000) in compensation for more than 2,720 kilograms of destroyed cakes. For many people, the story strengthened their impression of the snack as an unaffordable luxury.

“That was not the image of nut cake I had grown up with,” said 24-year-old Maimaititure who is now the board chairman of the Hunan Mengxiangqihang e-commerce Co.” The cake is part of the sweetest memories of my childhood.”

Maimaititure, who was a junior student at Changsha University of Science and Technology in 2012, said correcting public misconceptions about the traditional Uygur snack was part of the reason behind him agreeing to open an online store with fellow students, Jiang Jinya and Jiang Chunyang.

Maimaititure’s father and grandfather were both nut cake sellers in his hometown in Shache county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and helping his father make and sell the snacks was a big part of his happy childhood memories, he said.

“I wanted people to know what nut cake is really like, to be able to taste it, and have a real first impression of it, rather than to be afraid of the price,” he said.

The three budding businessmen first purchased cakes from Uygur vendors in Changsha, and sold them on Taobao, China’s largest online shopping website.

“I found that the cakes they made were far from ideal, with barely any sweetness and few ingredients,” Maimaititure said.

He then decided to purchase ingredients from his hometown and make his own nut cakes in a rented house near his college campus. They sell for about 50 yuan for a 500 gram cake.

Let them eat cake: Adili Maimaititure (right) invites people in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, to taste a 2,015 kg Xinjiang nut cake made by his company.[Photo by He Wenbing/China Daily]

The business, started by one Uygur and two Han students, was covered in the local media in 2013 before gaining the attention of State media outlets, which proved a crucial element in the company’s success.

However, Maimaititure believes the quality of the product is the most important reason for the company’s success.

“Taobao is an open platform where potential buyers can see feedback from other consumers,” he said.

Maimaititure said the three partners have had to work through disagreements as part of the process of building their business.

“Mostly, our differences are about how to use our resources properly, such as whether it is necessary to buy chairs or desks. I always lean toward austerity,” he said.

“Some times we use the simplest way to work our differences out: rock-paper-scissors,” he said.

The three registered their company and a trademark for their products in June, and also established cooperation with a food production company.

The company now has two units in Changsha a production plant producing 5 metric tons of nut cake a day, and an e-commerce department. It has also expanded its product line to include other agricultural products, such as dates and raisins.

“We are targeting total sales volume of 100 million in 2015, and a public listing in 10 years,” he said.

Maimaititure said they are aware that the support of Internet buyers is the key to their success, and giving back to the community is a motivation for their charity efforts, the latest of which was a new year celebration on Saturday where more than 10,000 people were invited to taste a nut cake weighing 2,015 kg.

Also his strong attachment to his hometown has never weakened, and he now has a larger mission in mind.

“The agricultural products of Xinjiang have long faced the problem of sluggish sales due to the lack of distribution channels,” he said.

“I want to help Xinjiang farmers get rich. The best way I can do that is through purchasing a large amount of their products,” he said.

Reflecting on the changes in his life in the past two years, Maimaititure said he has had difficulty adapting to his new role.

Two years ago, he was living on a monthly allowance of 300 yuan and had to work several part-time jobs to pay for his tuition fees, he said.

“Everything changes so fast,” he said.

“We had this opportunity when the nut cake became the center of attention, and that perhaps gave us the impetus to do the right thing.”