High-end foreign pastries are big business in China

Global Business

China has a long tradition of tasty desserts, but with rising incomes and easier access to international foods there’s a growing group of consumers who want foreign flavors.
Timothy Pope explains how delicious this industry can be.

High-end foreign pastries are big business in China

High-end foreign pastries are big business in China

China has a long tradition of tasty desserts, but with rising incomes and easier access to international foods there's a growing group of consumers who want foreign flavors. Timothy Pope explains how delicious this industry can be.

Two months ago Bobo Lee established his studio Bobo Lee Wedding Cakes. He designs and makes every wedding cake from the specialized requests of new couples. His exquisite handmade sugar flowers are the most impressive part of his creations. Bobo learned how to make sugar flowers in the United States and is now teaching the basics of the skill to his students.

“It’s all part of a process. At first, couples did not think of having wedding cakes. Now they want a cake, but don’t have too many ideas about how it should look. I think it takes time to accept the idea. I tailor wedding cakes for those who have overseas experience or favor western ideas. They want a very special wedding. They want everything to be customized, from wedding dress, to decorations, to cakes,” Lee said.

Bobo said the people of Shanghai have always been known as the trend setters in China and so they are more likely to welcome the idea of high end tailored wedding cakes. That’s why he set up his studio here and it has turned out well. More young Chinese are open to the idea of special cakes and in fact many are interested in learning how to make cakes themselves.

“I like making cakes and I like the style of this cake, so I wanted to try by myself. I saw pictures of his cakes. They are very beautifully made,” one customer said.

The customers these days want more than just a good looking cake however, so Bobo went to the Tokyo branch of Le Cordon Bleu, a world leading culinary school, to learn how to make them tasty too. Ruby Gao is food and wine editor at Shanghai Daily and she agrees that Chinese customers now want more authentic flavors in their cakes.

“That means they do not prefer those once very popular locally adapted pastries. For example, they would rather go to a pastry shop opened by a celebrity chef for an eclair than go to a piece of adapted eclair,” Gao said.

It has all created a rush of high-end foreign bakers into China. Well known French dessert boutique Angelina opened in Beijing and Shanghai last year. COVA, which started in 1817 in Italy, has opened four branches in Shanghai. Customers still find that the desserts sold locally are more expensive than their counterparts purchased abroad since a big part of the costs go into imported ingredients.

“The big challenge is ingredient sourcing and as far as I know lots of high-end pastry shops here import ingredients, because they want to ensure their quality. Regretfully, most of the local farms cannot produce high quality milk and flour which are key ingredients in pastry kitchens,” Gao said.

Still there remains great potential in China’s bakery market. The annual per capita consumption of baked goods is five kilograms (around 11 pounds), which is much less than in other countries with traditional dietary habits similar to China’s, like Korea for example, where people buy on average 8 kilograms of baked goods every year.