Ready-to-eat dinners are trending in China during the Spring Festival

Diners in China have turned to ready-made meals for their annual reunion dinners on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday, as busy schedules and new restaurant and supermarket offerings prompt a change in the traditions.

The meeting on Monday this year is customary for many Chinese-speaking communities around the world. Families traditionally gather for a freshly prepared feast to mark the end of one year and welcome another.

But in China, ready meals or meals, which are pre-prepared and can be reheated in minutes, are becoming trendy as time-pressed city dwellers seek quick fixes. Shortcuts are especially welcome for complicated traditional dishes like braised ‘Dongpo pork elbow’ or ‘Buddha jumps over the wall’, a meat and seafood stew that can require up to 30 ingredients.

“Last year, I had to spend days preparing New Year’s Eve dinner,” said Li Wei, a 32-year-old teacher who decided to pre-order dishes for her family’s reunion dinner in a well-known restaurant in Beijing.

“I learned from the media that ready meals are popular, and that seems like a perfect solution to me because I’m not a good cook anyway.”

Supermarkets and restaurants are rushing to meet demand.

Alibaba Group’s supermarket chain Freshippo offers ready-made Lunar New Year meal sets priced from 688 yuan ($108.17) to 3,888 yuan, and Dingdong Maicai, another delivery platform of fresh produce, sells easy-to-cook dishes for the holidays, such as sweetened rice pudding.

China’s ready-to-use vegetable market was estimated at 345.9 billion yuan in 2021, according to iiMedia Research. The market is on track to expand annually at a growth rate of 20%, reaching around 516.5 billion yuan in 2023.

The pandemic is boosting the popularity of ready meals as social distancing measures encourage more people to stay for meals.

However, the advancement of food processing techniques and the development of cold chain logistics are the main reasons for the growth of the convenience food sector, according to NCBD, a research organization for the restaurant industry.

Analysts at iiMedia Research believe that ready meals can also find their way into chain stores. The rapid growth of chain stores is creating an increasing demand for ready meals, as they resort to standardized and large-scale production. Ready meals can reduce running costs in restaurant kitchens, the research body added.

The NCBD noted problems in the sector, including unclear industry standards, an incomplete supply chain and vulnerability to fluctuating commodity prices.

NCBD predicted that enterprises will pay more attention to brand building in the future and focus on business-to-business market and business-to-business market.

(Contributed by Reuters)

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