Lantern Festival battle: Sweet or savoury Tangyuan?

Lantern Festival fell on 5 February this year, marking the final day of the CNY celebrations and triggering surging sales of the traditional dessert “Tangyuan or Yuanxiao” with over 70% of post-00s preferring sweet Tangyuan over savoury ones.

Tangyuan is made of sticky rice with a filling inside which can either be sweet or savoury, and its ball like shape symbolises the family bond and good fortune for Chinese citizens. While “Tangyuan” refers to the Southern style, it is better known as “Yuanxiao” in the North. The preference over the taste of the fillings is different all across the country, which ignited a yearly nationwide battle over the flavour varieties and created a buzz on social media.

This year, sweet Tangyuan gained more popularity with its sales equating to 40 times as many compared to its savoury counterpart. Traditional fillings like black sesame seeds remained the protagonist of the battlefield, representing 60% of the overall sales.

A rather lively discussion was triggered over the results with the related hashtag drawing in over 47.42 million views on China’s largest microblogging site Weibo. The topic of whether it should be called “Yuanxiao” or “Tangyuan” accumulated up to 94.45 million views, indicating the country’s enthusiasm towards this tradition and is something brands should capitalise on.

According to a report by domestic online retailer, male consumers favour savoury flavourings over sweet ones, while female consumers are the opposite. Not to mention, the 26 to 45 year old age group has become the main purchasing force for Tangyuan.

Apart from the classic black sesame seeds, red bean and peanut butter flavours, newly invented fillings such as durian, strawberry, savoury duck egg and Oreo chocolate have also gained upward popularity. Tapping into the ongoing healthy lifestyle sensation, sugar-free Tangyuan rose to prominence with its sales up by 340%.

From the initial core fillings of black sesame seeds evolving to new flavours, Chinese consumers’ tastes are becoming more diversified and health driven. Food brands should pay close attention to this trend and focus on flavour innovation if they are to stay on course with savvy consumers whilst tapping into the rising healthy lifestyle sensation in China.


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