Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Retailers tout the lighter side of mooncakes

NUTRITIOUS Along with the trend toward healthier eating, mooncake bakers have come up with more innovative mixtures such as mushrooms and ginseng

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Staff from various coffee shop and convenience store chains yesterday display their mooncake offerings for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Oct. 6 this year.

PHOTO: YANG YA-MIN, TAIPEI TIMES

Healthy and nutritious pastries are expected to steal the limelight from traditional mooncake flavors this Mid-Autumn Festival, domestic retailers and bakeries said yesterday.

New ingredients such as ginseng, mushroom and "kan-ten" (寒天), a type of agar that is rich in fiber, have been added to a growing list of innovative mixtures for making moon cakes that are designed to cater to young consumers' demanding tastes.

"Traditional stuffing still has support from a loyal clientele, usually those above the age of 40. But for youngsters, we've found that `snow cakes,' with ice cream wrapped in a mochi crust [made of glutinous rice], are catching on," said Antonia Pao (鮑榮君), manager of marketing communications at the Westin Taipei.

Traditional mooncakes made of lotus seed or red bean paste with yolk from salted duck eggs contain 700 to 800 calories each, she said.

To ease consumers' concerns about weight gain, Westin Taipei features smaller size mooncakes and a variety of novelty choices, ranging from mango and pineapple to ginseng and a mushroom and lotus-seed paste mixture.

Riding on the health trend, President Starbucks Coffee Corp (統一星巴克), the firm in charge of the Seattle-based coffee chain in Taiwan, uses cheese instead of an egg yolk to reduce the cholesterol level, according to Paul Chung (仲崇經), the firm's merchandising and marketing director.

Moreover, its mooncakes use seaweed sugar in place of granulated sugar in the making of the crust, which lowers the number of calories by about two-thirds, Chung said.

"The health concept will only get hotter and hotter. The only difference is the flavors introduced to lure orders," he said.

Domestic mooncake sales are estimated to be worth NT$3 billion (US$91.6 million) a year. The Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, or Oct. 6 this year, is also the biggest sales season for gift boxes.

A survey conducted by President Chain Store Corp (統一超商), operator of the world's third-largest 7-Eleven franchise, showed that nearly 90 percent of consumers give away gift boxes during the Mid-Autumn Festival, with mooncakes taking the lion's share.

To snatch a bigger market share, retailers started promotions and taking orders early this month.

But the costs of raw materials, such as flour and pulp, have jumped by an average of 30 percent from last year, according to Chen Ming-fa (陳明發), chief of the e-retail business section of Taiwan FamilyMart Co (全家便利商店).

"To avoid hiking retail prices for moon cakes, retailers are increasing the portions of cookies or tea bags in gift boxes, which also give consumers more selections to choose from," Chen said.

Examples are seen in Taiwan FamilyMart's offering of mooncakes with oolong tea and one of President Starbucks' series that combine cakes with ball-shaped pastries.

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