5 of China's emerging food trends sparked by urbanisation and technology

5 of China's emerging food trends sparked by urbanisation and technology

Hey trendsetter

Text: Janice Sim

Image: SPACE10

The megacity has spoken. No, not America, but China — a mega economical force that has lifted millions from poverty in the past century. It's where the frontiers of technology can be found alongside some of the brand new gizmos that the rest of the world have never laid eyes on. Of course, including emerging food trends that could very easily manifest to the rest of the world. SPACE10, an Ikea-funded innovation lab in the heart of Copenhagan joins forces with YEAST, a food lab in Shanghai to unearth what China's present could bode for the world's future. 

Robot restaurants
The humanless retail experience is rapidly becoming an everyday reality in China. Chinese companies are experimenting with everything from micro "box" shops selling packaged foods on college campuses to walk-in shops selling fresh produce in shopping malls. Restaurant chains like KFC and Pizza hut are even testing out cute robots as customer interfaces to guide people to their tables and take payments using facial-recognition technology.

Robot restaurants

Old-school mom-and-pop shops go digital
It's hard to imagine tradition paying the way for technology but anything can happen in China. Thanks to internet tech giants like Alibaba and JD who are providing mom-and-pop shops with software, supply-chain solutions and new monetisation models. In return, the big players get access to physical spaces, which they can add to their network of point-of-sale locations and food delivery hubs.

Old school mom-pop shops

The rise of dark kitchens and delivery hubs
These are restaurants that never take any customers in. Reason being, they're by-products of China's food delivery boom. Instead, they function solely for producing food that have been ordered via delivery services. Wander the back streets of Shanghai and you'll find alleyways filled with tiny "eateries" that have neither seats nor diners. Instead you will see a cluster of orange,blue and yellow-uniformed employees waiting to collect a new delivery order.

Food trends in China

Online creativity and the rise of new food products
If there's anything we've learnt about food in the past year, it would be be from social media star Ms Yeah. In her videos (easily viewed on Youtube), the office simpleton demonstrates how you can cook your very own hotpot via the water dispenser. Other famous culinary legends (from the video platform Douyin) have had their careers launched from creating a newfound beef sauce and even strange inventions like chocolate-fried rice and ice-cream noodles. These web sensations have been such a massive hit that even restaurant chains like Haidilao and bubble tea brand, Coco have incorporated these creations on their menus.

China food trends

Livestreaming bridges rural and the urban
Papaya farmers, cane-sugar growers and pig breeders are now carrying tripods mounted with smartphones as they walk around their fields and stables. And this is rural China we're talking about. Yes, the people actually producing the food are getting in on the act of live-streaming. Some farmers have even become celebrities, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, as people in Chinese megacities log on to see where their food comes from and how it's produced. Further enabled by huge Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, this trend also helps people to buy their food straight from the source. Farm to tablet to table, indeed.

Food trends in China

For insight on the current food landscape in Singapore, click here.