China bakery insight 2012: business visits

16 May, 2012

BB's Georgi Gyton is continuing her trip throughout China and visiting the country's bakeries to see how they compare to the UK, including chanting from in-store staff and ‘floss’ breads.

Day four: Sunday 13 May

Sunday was dedicated to finding out a bit more about some of the successful bakery businesses currently operating in China. We visited two retail bakeries and one manufacturer in Beijing. Paris Baguette was our first stop. Not a very Chinese sounding bakery, I’d imagine you’re thinking. Well this was a great example of the east meets west food culture in the more developed cities on the east coast of China – namely Shanghai and Beijing. The chain itself is in fact Korean, and offers a wide range of bakery products – some very traditionally Chinese, such as ‘floss’ breads, as well as chocolate brownies and pizza for example.

One of the interesting ancillaries it offered, which could be easily taken up by bakeries in the UK, was the sale of candles and party hats to go alongside its celebration and birthday cake offering. Once again individually packaged portions were big, with things like two slices of Swiss roll or one mini cake encased in elegant see-through packaging.

One thing I’m not sure would catch on in the UK was the bizarre tandem chanting by the staff at regular intervals in the shop. Apparently, they were welcoming people to the shop and thanking them for shopping there, but it did sound like maybe they were part of some strange cult, each kitted out in their French-style stripey t-shirts and berets. But despite this bizarre custom, they are certainly a company on the up in China, and have worldwide domination in their sights. They already have a presence abroad, including 20 stores in the US and one in Singapore, with plans to open in the Middle East in the near future. In a presentation given to us by the firm, they said their goal was to be “the world’s number one bakery brand by 2020”. That’s quite a target.

We then headed to the world’s most expensive bakery retailer – the Black Swan Luxury Cake Shop, which was described as the Tiffany’s of bakery. The particular shop that we visited turns over around $1m annually – just in the one shop alone. And rumour has it that its retail assistants – which look like glamourous flight attendants – are the highest paid of any retailer in China. Its most expensive option – the equivalent of $350,000 – costs the same as a small apartment in Beijing apparently. And they have sold a few. It was certainly like no bakery I have ever been to before, but interesting to see that people really are prepared to pay serious money for top-quality bakery products.

We then stopped for a ‘hot pot’ lunch in the city, which was essentially the Chinese version of a fondue. There were all sorts of ‘interesting’ dishes laid out on the large round table, which you then cooked yourself in a spicy sauce bubbling away in a pan on a mini one ring hob inlaid into the table in front of you. I managed to avoid the roll of ox’s stomach – I decided it might be a good plan to look at the catalogue-style menu this time, so had ruled out a few of the options. However, there was a rather alarming moment when, after I had eaten mushrooms, one of the Chinese guys said these particular varieties needed cooking, or apparently you would be so ill, he joked, that you wouldn’t be leaving China any time soon. Thankfully I had submerged this particular mushroom in the steamy broth before I ate it, but not for that long. Well I’m still alive now, so hopefully I’ll be okay!

After lunch we took a trip to Yili Bakery, a manufacturer based outside the city centre. Its speciality was fruit bread – made with apple, walnuts, melon and grapes (sultanas). We had a look at the production line, which you could say was definitely less automated than a UK factory would be, with lots of things being done by hand. One lady’s method of check-weighing – which seemed to involve randomly pulling off chunks of dough with her hands from already portioned pieces – was certainly interesting.

We then ended the day with a delicious meal at ‘M’ Capital, a western-style restaurant in the heart of Beijing.





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