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China sees craze for ready-to-cook dishes

Citizens are shopping in an outlet store of Hema Xiansheng, an Alibaba-invested futuristic supermarket in Shanghai. (People's Daily Online/ Wang Chu).

Citizens are shopping in an outlet store of Hema Xiansheng, an Alibaba-invested futuristic supermarket in Shanghai. (People's Daily Online/ Wang Chu).

Published Jul 25, 2022

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More and more ready-to-cook dishes are getting onto the dining tables of the Chinese.

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According to statistics, a rising demand for ready-to-cook food has been observed in China since 2022.

Ready-to-cook dishes launched by the time-honoured Guangzhou Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of China Hospitality Association).

During the five-day May Day holiday this year, the sales of ready-to-cook dishes surged over 80 percent year on year on Tmall, an online marketplace of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, and the growth soared to 230 percent during the mid-year "618" shopping festival.

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Besides, Hema Gongfang, a restaurant chain under Alibaba-invested futuristic supermarket Hema Xiansheng, also saw the sales of semi-finished food double in May this year.

"I started liking this way of cooking after I tried ready-to-cook meals during the past Chinese New Year," said Chen Xiao, who lives in Longgang district, Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province.

He said ready-to-cook meals taste much better than instant noodles and are more convenient than take-away food, so they are perfect for people working 9-5.

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Restaurants and hotels were major consumers of ready-to-cook food, as it made meals more standard and improved efficiency. However, in recent years, ready-to-cook food has been more and more sought after by individual consumers.

For most of the consumers, ready-to-cook food frees them from washing vegetables and seasoning the dishes. With semi-finished food, all they have to do is to open the packages and heat the dishes. Meals can be ready in just a few minutes.

Ready-to-cook food not only makes cooking easier, but also creates a new market where a number of players are competing.

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In recent years, many time-honoured restaurant brands and chain restaurants have launched ready-to-cook products. What's more, the market is even joined by some seasoning producers.

So far, over 5,000 types of ready-to-cook dishes have been put on the shelf on JD.com, a leading online retailing platform in China, and many other online marketplaces have announced to join the market, including Meituan Maicai, an online grocery shopping service under Meituan, China's leading e-commerce platform for services, as well as Missfresh, an online neighbourhood retail platform.

66,700 enterprises had been engaged in the industry of ready-to-cook food as of May this year.

Li Feng, who's in charge of a ready-to-cook food program of Meituan Maicai, said e-commerce platforms could help inexperienced enterprises rapidly gain a foothold in the industry and assist them in terms of online-offline integration.

The ready-to-cook food industry concerns both rural vitalization and consumption reform. It bears important significance for advancing rural development, expanding domestic demand and driving consumption. The industry enjoys bright prospects.

According to statistics, the output value of the Chinese ready-to-cook food market hit 350 billion yuan ($51.7 billion) in 2021. The figure is expected to reach 410 billion yuan this year and 1 trillion within the next five years.

A series of measures and standards have been rolled out to support the industry. In January this year, China National Development and Reform Commission issued a notice on promoting consumption, which encouraged the sales of semi-finished food and partially processed vegetables. Recently, China Cuisine Association launched a standard for ready-to-cook dishes, raising specific requirements on the ingredients, hygiene, packaging and storage of ready-to-cook food. Similar specifications have also been issued by China Hospitality Association on June 28.

As the industry gradually gets regulated, more and more convenient and delicious ready-to-cook dishes are expected to hit the market.

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