China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By XU WEI and FENG ZHI­WEI in Chang­sha Con­tact the writer at xuwei@ chi­

Adili Maimaiti­ture had only a small pur­pose in mind when he first opened an on­line store in 2012 to sell Xin­jiang nut cake, in­for­mally called qie­gao.

At the time, the sweet snack had be­come a sub­ject of ridicule on­line after a dis­pute be­tween a Uygur snack ven­dor and a cus­tomer prompted a fight that ended with the buyer hav­ing to pay 160,000 yuan ($26,000) in com­pen­sa­tion for more than 2,720 kilo­grams of de­stroyed cakes. For many peo­ple, the story strength­ened their im­pres­sion of the snack as an un­af­ford­able lux­ury.

“That was not the im­age of nut cake I had grown up with,” said Maimaiti­ture, who at 24 years old is now the board chair­man of the Hu­nan Mengx­i­angqi­hang E-com­merce Co Ltd. “The cake is part of the sweet­est mem­o­ries of my child­hood.”

Maimaiti­ture, who was a ju­nior stu­dent at Chang­sha Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy in 2012, said cor­rect­ing those pub­lic mis­con­cep­tions about the tra­di­tional Uygur snack was part of the mo­tive be­hind him agree­ing to open an on­line store with two fel­low stu­dents, Jiang Jinya and Jiang Chun­yang.

Maimaiti­ture’s fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were both ven­dors of the nut cake in his home­town in Shache county, Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and help­ing his fa­ther make and sell the snacks was a big part of his happy child­hood mem­o­ries, he said.

“Such mis­con­cep­tions were all over the place. Peo­ple made jokes about the cake when­ever they could. It made me un­com­fort­able,” he re­called.

“I wanted peo­ple to know what nut cake is re­ally like, to be able to taste it and have a real first im­pres­sion of it, rather than to be afraid of the price,” he said.

The three bud­ding busi­ness­men first pur­chased cakes from Uygur ven­dors in Chang­sha and sold them on Taobao, China’s largest on­line shop­ping web­site.

“I found that the cakes they made were far from ideal, with barely any sweet­ness and few in­gre­di­ents,” Maimaiti­ture said.

He then de­cided to pur­chase raw ma­te­ri­als from his home­town and make his own nut cakes in a rented house near his col­lege cam­pus. The fin­ished prod­uct sells for about 50 yuan for a 500 g cake.

The business started by one Uygur and two Han stu­dents was cov­ered in the lo­cal me­dia in 2013 be­fore gain­ing the at­ten­tion of state me­dia out­lets, which proved a cru­cial el­e­ment in the company’s suc­cess.

“The sales of our prod­ucts on­line jumped each time after there was me­dia cov­er­age. Then there would be a mild slump,” Maimaiti­ture said. The company’s high­est daily sales vol­ume reached more than 100,000 yuan after Xin­hua News Agency pub­lished a story about its on­line store.

How­ever, Maimaiti­ture be­lieves the qual­ity of the prod­uct is the more im­por­tant rea­son for the company’s suc­cess.

“Taobao is an open plat­form where po­ten­tial buy­ers can see feed­back from other con­sumers,” he said.

Maimaiti­ture said the three part­ners have had to work through dis­agree­ments as part of the process of build­ing their business.

“Food could be a prob­lem at times be­cause I can only eat Ha­lal food. But they have done very well on most oc­ca­sions,” he said.

“Mostly our dif­fer­ences are about how to prop­erly use our re­sources, such as whether it is nec­es­sary to buy chairs or desks. I am al­ways on the side of aus­ter­ity,” he said.

“Some­times we use the sim­plest way to work our dif­fer­ences out: Rock-pa­per-scis­sors,” he said.

Maimaiti­ture’s “Plan B” for his fu­ture was to re­turn to his home­town and his par­ents after col­lege.

“My par­ents wanted me to go home. They al­ways had a strong say in the de­ci­sions I made in my life,” he said.

How­ever, the suc­cess of the business con­vinced him to stick to his e-com­merce ca­reer, and he re­jected a job of­fer from a road en­gi­neer­ing company in Xin­jiang.

The three also re­ceived support from their col­lege and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, who or­ga­nized vol­un­teers to help them at times and of­fered guid­ance on the pro­duc­tion process and li­cens­ing of prod­ucts.

The three regis­tered their company and a trade­mark of their prod­ucts in June, and also es­tab­lished co­op­er­a­tion with a food pro­duc­tion company.

The company now has two units in Chang­sha, one pro­duc­tion plant and the other in charge of the e-com­merce business, and has a daily pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity of five metric tons of nut cake. It regis­tered a to­tal sales vol­ume of more than 20 mil­lion yuan in the JuneNovem­ber pe­riod. It has also ex­panded its prod­ucts from only nut cakes to in­clude other agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, such as dates and raisins.

“We are tar­get­ing to­tal sales vol­ume of 100 mil­lion in 2015, and a pub­lic list­ing in 10 years,” he said.

De­spite his rapid e-com­merce suc­cess, Maimaiti­ture said his strong at­tach­ment to his home­town has never weak­ened, and he now has a larger mis­sion in mind.

“The agri­cul­tural prod­ucts of Xin­jiang have long faced the prob­lem of slug­gish sales due to the lack of dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels,” he said.

“I want to help Xin­jiang farm­ers get rich. The best way I can do that is through pur­chas­ing large amount of their prod­ucts,”

Maimaiti­ture said the three part­ners are aware that the support of In­ter­net buy­ers is the key to their suc­cess in the e-com­merce business, and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity is a mo­ti­va­tion for their char­ity ef­forts, in­clud­ing a do­na­tion of nut cakes worth of more than 500,000 yuan to the vic­tims of a mag­ni­tude-6.5 earth­quake in Lu­dian county, Yun­nan prov­ince, in Auguat.

Re­flect­ing on the changes in his life in the past two years, Maimaiti­ture said he has had dif­fi­culty adapt­ing to his new role.

Two years ago, he said, he was liv­ing on a monthly al­lowance of 300 yuan and had to work sev­eral part-time jobs to pay for his tu­ition fees.

“Ev­ery­thing changes so fast,” he said.

“We had this op­por­tu­nity when the nut cake be­came the cen­ter of at­ten­tion, and that per­haps gave us the im­pe­tus to do the right thing.”


The cakes are baked un­der care­ful su­per­vi­sion at a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Chang­sha. The on­line store regis­tered a to­tal sales vol­ume of more than 20 mil­lion yuan in the June-Novem­ber pe­riod.

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