Have ‘con­ve­nience noo­dles’ taken an in­con­ve­nient fall?

China Daily (USA) - - VIEW - The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. Zhuqi­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

There is no need to cry over the fall­ing sales of in­stant noo­dles, for decades of ro­bust eco­nomic growth have made Chi­nese con­sumers wise enough to shift to healthy di­ets and life­styles.

A re­cent Bain & Com­pany and Kan­tar World­panel re­port shows an­nual sales of in­stant noo­dles in China dropped by 12.5 per­cent in 2015. Yet it is pre­ma­ture to con­clude that this is clear ev­i­dence of up­graded con­sump­tion in China, be­cause the down­ward pres­sure on eco­nomic growth and sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing prices in big cities are eat­ing into Chi­nese peo­ple’s in­comes.

A close look at the un­der­ly­ing causes of the de­cline in the con­sump­tion of an iconic fast food item may help pol­i­cy­mak­ers come to grips with im­mi­nent eco­nomic chal­lenges that they can­not af­ford to ig­nore. In a coun­try where peo­ple have long seen food as manna, the surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity of in­stant noo­dles since the early 1980s has made it one of the most telling foot­notes to China’s re­mark­able re­form and open­ing-up his­tory.

As hun­dreds of mil­lions of Chi­nese farm­ers left their homes in search of bet­ter prospects in cities and peo­ple across the so­cial di­vide seized every op­por­tu­nity to get rich, the time-sav­ing in­stant noo­dles, also called “con­ve­nience noo­dles”, more or less be­came the choice of al­most every one. At the height of their sales, Chi­nese con­sumed 48.38 bil­lion pack­ets of in­stant noo­dles in 2011. In other words, on av­er­age every one of the 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple in China con­sumed three pack­ets of in­stant noo­dles a month that year.

If these are the causes be­hind the fall­ing sales of in­stant noo­dles, pol­i­cy­mak­ers should pay close at­ten­tion to them, and fix the in­dus­trial struc­tural prob­lems and meet the de­mo­graphic chal­lenges they re­veal.

But gone are the days when pre­cooked noo­dles were con­sid­ered a lux­ury prod­uct. In the early years of re­form and open­ing-up, when the coun­try was yet to bid farewell to eco­nomic short­age, in­stant noo­dles of var­i­ous fla­vors were the main­stays of col­lege dor­mi­to­ries and long-dis­tance trains’ pantry cars.

The in­tro­duc­tion of bul­let (or high­speed) trains to the rail­way fleet has largely re­duced pas­sen­gers’ need to make do with in­stant noo­dles on trains, ei­ther be­cause the trav­el­ing time is shorter or be­cause pantry cars of­fer proper food. And the boom­ing on­line ser­vice al­low­ing peo­ple to or­der take­outs has tremen­dously ex­panded col­lege stu­dents’ choice be­yond in­stant noo­dles.

At a time when more and more peo­ple are likely to be­lieve in “you are what you eat”, it is not sur­pris­ing to see con­sumers shy­ing away from “con­ve­nience noo­dles”, be­cause they are not deemed healthy.

But other pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions for the fall in the sales of in­stant noo­dles might be cause for con­cern as pol­i­cy­mak­ers try hard to steer the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy through grow­ing do­mes­tic and global un­cer­tain­ties.

On the one hand, as a kind of food that has been cater­ing mainly to bluecol­lar work­ers, in­stant noo­dles’ drop­ping sales may in­di­cate that many man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs are mov­ing to coun­tries where la­bor costs are lower amid the stalling growth of China’s trade. One the other hand, the fall in the sales of in­stant noo­dles may in­di­cate the shrink­ing sup­ply of work­ing-age mi­grant work­ers who were their most loyal con­sumers.

If these are the causes be­hind the fall­ing sales of in­stant noo­dles, pol­i­cy­mak­ers should pay close at­ten­tion to them, and fix the in­dus­trial struc­tural prob­lems and meet the de­mo­graphic chal­lenges they re­veal.

Though it is tempt­ing to in­ter­pret the de­clin­ing sales of cheap fast food as a sign of up­graded con­sump­tion pat­terns, pol­i­cy­mak­ers should not ig­nore the loom­ing im­pact of rock­et­ing hous­ing prices on con­sumers’ pur­chas­ing power. If they want the con­sump­tion up­grade to con­tinue, they need to take mea­sures to pre­vent the red-hot prop­erty mar­ket from suck­ing too much fi­nan­cial re­sources away from most other eco­nomic sec­tors that have cre­ated the ma­jor­ity of jobs and in­comes for Chi­nese con­sumers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.