The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian cultures that spans as far back as over 3000 years. For the Chinese, it is one of the most important festivals, second only to the Chinese New Year.
The festival is held every year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. On this day, the moon is at its brightest and fullest, coinciding with the harvest. This year the festival falls on the 21st of September.
Normally, the festival is marked by a three-day holiday in which families gather from all over the world to celebrate together – admiring the moon, and stuffing themselves on mooncakes. But as the pandemic continues, this year’s festival – much like last year’s – continues to be less traditional.
A Tradition Eclipsed
With Vietnam having experienced a surge of new COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, many cities and provinces have implemented social distancing measures. This means that streets will be bereft of shops that sold traditional mooncakes back in more festive years.
Not wanting to break age-old tradition, mooncake brands have gone online to sell their products and bring goods directly to consumers. Traditional confectionery companies have turned to e-commerce sites to carry out their business while stricter social distancing measures are in place.
The pandemic has forced Hai Ha Confectionery JSC to approach this year's market completely differently. According to its marketing manager, Dao Tien Thanh, online marketing channels and e-commerce will be further developed in order to minimize contact with customers. Taking into account the limited spending power of consumers affected by the pandemic, most of Hai Ha's mooncake products will maintain stable prices despite a price increase in materials.
Other bakeries, on the other hand, have decided to shut down mooncake production entirely this season.
Labor shortage and increasing manufacturing costs have prompted many small bakeries across Vietnam to not produce the traditional dessert this year. The reduced income of consumers as a result of the pandemic has turned mooncakes into a sort of luxury product for many blue-collar workers, thus lowering the demand even further.
This drop in demand is felt by even those still selling online. Businesses are producing only a moderate amount or around 20-30% of what they would normally produce in previous years.
Different Phases of the Moon(cake)
Despite the drop in demand in some markets, the mooncake continues to shine bright as a cornerstone of the festival.
For brands trying to stay on-trend, the mooncake has long been a go-to during this season.
Tapping into tradition is an indispensable way for brands to reach Chinese consumers. By incorporating Chinese heritage and showcasing a dedication to traditional culture, brands can ride current trends of nostalgia and national identity.
Mooncakes provide brands with the opportunity to do just this.
Custom mooncake gift boxes are the most common tactics used by brands to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and reach out to their consumers. Every year, global luxury fashion brands try to outdo each other with their specially designed mooncake gift boxes for valued customers and business associates, usually resulting in some truly creative designs.
It’s not all about presentation, though. Flavor is equally important. As such, several heritage brands in Shanghai have partnered up with food brands to give a modern taste to this millennia-old treat.
Xinghualou, a 170-year-old mooncake brand in Shanghai, has teamed up with Nestle to create a new gift box consisting of coffee mooncakes, red bean mooncakes, and mooncakes stuffed with different types of nuts. On top of this, the company also launched a plant-based "meat" mooncake that's low in fat but taste similar to real pork.
But it's not just luxury fashion and food brands that are making use of the mooncakes' unifying powers. When the pandemic made it difficult for animal shelters in Malaysia to find funding, selling dog-friendly mooncakes became a way for dog food supplier, SY Cheah, to raise funds for the animals in need. Aside from raising money for the shelters, these special mooncakes would allow dogs to also participate in the festival.
photo by SY Cheah (source)
As we continue to traverse these turbulent times, may we take some time this mid-autumn to admire the beauty of the moon. The very same moon that shines on friends and family no matter the distance that separates them. And just like how it waxes and wanes, let the moon be a reminder that all things shall pass. Even this pandemic.
Want to know more about other tasty treats in Asia? Check out our other Eye on Asia entries! We've got stories on Indonesia's Favorite Instant Noodle and Malaysia's Mamak Stalls. See you in the next one!