Zhengzhou, Henan province-based instant noodle maker Baixiang Food Group has gone viral online as the company gained popularity among consumers recently for its better product quality, which is partly due to Baixiang's insistence on not cooperating with any outside suppliers, a move to avoid risks of compromising food safety.
A growing trend among foodmakers of keeping suppliers in-house comes in the wake of compromised food safety practices related to substandard pickled cabbage in the industry.
The traditional instant noodle sector could experience changes in patterns and it is facing multiple challenges with the emergence of various instant, self-heating meal options and the rapid growth of the food delivery sector, analysts said.
Conventional instant noodles require boiled water, but self-heating foods such as rice and hotpot dishes are easier to cook. They can be heated up after opening via a chemical reaction, or after simply adding tap water.
During the annual gala of China Media Group on March 15, also the World Consumer Rights Day, it was revealed that compromised food safety practices related to pickled cabbage production exist among some noodle makers.
Master Kong, owned by Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Corp－China's largest instant noodle maker－admitted that it had purchased the pickled cabbage in question to produce a kind of popular instant noodles.
Peer Uni-President China Holdings Ltd clarified that it does not deal with the pickled cabbage suppliers in question. It also contacted its cabbage suppliers to ensure supplies meet required standards.
Since then, a large number of consumers have turned to Baixiang instant noodles, online and offline, creating "big surge in demand" as was described in the company's out-of-stock announcement.
In 2020, Master Kong, Uni-President China and Jinmailang, a domestic instant noodle maker, accounted for 46 percent, 15 percent and 11 percent of domestic market share, respectively. Baixiang took a 7 percent share, the fourth-largest, according to the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology.
"The technological development of automated production has raised the overall strength of the instant noodle sector. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have shown significant demand for instant foods. Retailers should conduct more research about market demand in the pandemic-ravaged era and upgrade their products and management models," said Shao Wei, deputy chairman of the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology.
During the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games in early March, it was reported that about one-third of Baixiang employees were people with disabilities. Many consumers have since recognized the company's support to the group and purchased instant noodles to express their recognition of the company.
Baixiang said it is increasing its investment in research and development by building more advanced labs, upgrading facilities and attracting more talent. It also aims to develop more varieties of products. For instance, it has a buckwheat noodle product that targets people who aim to keep fit and lose weight, the company said.
"Some medium-sized instant noodle retailers such as Baixiang need to further upgrade their products and sales channels and achieve diversified development. A short period of enthusiasm from consumers won't support their long-term growth," said Zhu Danpeng, a food industry analyst.