For Chu Jing, a 28-year-old white collar worker who is getting married today, Western Valentine’s Day chocolates are her candy of choice.
Three flat-bottomed teardrop-shaped Kisses chocolates made by US confectioner Hershey’s and crispy chocolate wrapped in gold foil from the Italian company Ferrero have been chosen by Chu and carefully wrapped in a red silk pouch embossed with roses.
Explaining her choices, Chu said: “The name Kisses shows the theme of love and Ferrero’s golden packaging symbolises fortune in China.””
At nearly all Chinese weddings, guests are given candy, often in beautifully packaged boxes and personalised to match a couple’s taste. These boxes not only add to the festive atmosphere, but also represent happiness and sweetness to the newlyweds’ guests.
Giving candy at weddings has long been a tradition in China. In the past, people chose hard candy or jellied fruits as gifts. In recent decades, it has become more popular to include chocolates in the candy packages.
Still, it took decades for the Chinese to develop a taste for chocolate.
In the early 1980s, when the country had just embarked on its economic reform and opening-up, a piece of chocolate was regarded more as a precious rarity than as a daily necessity.
Yu Xiaoning, chief executive officer of the import and distribution company Vandergeeten, shipped his first container of Belgian chocolate to China in 1994.
Yu said at the time, the price of Belgian chocolate was a benchmark by which Chinese people gauged its quality, and also made chocolate from European countries a byword for luxury instead of a “kitchen cupboard essential”.
“There were some domestic chocolate brands in China then, but most of them could not met the international definition of genuine chocolate, as the products used replacements rather than real cocoa butter,” Yu said.
Chocolate makers globally have made converts and are competing fiercely for the high returns in the Chinese market, spotting the potential financial rewards in the world’s second-largest economy.
The chocolate market in China has boomed since the 1990s as leading companies such as Mars, Ferrero, Nestle, Hershey and Cadbury entered the country in their quest to turn locals into chocoholics.
Both domestic and foreign manufacturers continue to research and develop new products geared toward Chinese tastes such as chocolates filled with fruit, soft candy, star anise or milk flavouring.
They have also experimented with replacing European-style liquor-filled chocolates with the Chinese spirit baijiu or with green tea.