Chowing down food between 11pm and 6am doesn’t earn your doctor’s approval.
But a lot of Chinese are undeterred by the warnings against late-night snacking. In cities across the country, street hawkers sell meat skewers, crayfish and stir-fried dishes well past midnight. Food delivery platforms are busy in these supposedly quieter hours too.
Known as yexiao, the practice of late-night eating was popularised in the wealthier coastal cities but has spread across the entire nation. As a result it has become a fixture too in the fast-food business, so much so that KFC has added late-night snacks to its menu.
The chain – operated by Yum China, which is part-owned by Ant Financial and Primavera Capital – launched Sichuan-style skewers in hotpot and braised chicken parts in 10 cities last month.
Available till around five in the morning, these ‘midnight snacks’ serve up delights such as chicken hearts, chicken gizzards, beef tripe and even huanghou (cow and pig aorta).
KFC has a knack for localising its menu. Breakfast offerings include porridge, youtiao (fried breadsticks, see WiC14) and soymilk. But it is the first time that it has put offal on the menu, in a move by the chain that took some of its Chinese diners by surprise (animal entrails are popular in China, less so elsewhere).
“It is an attempt by KFC to localise its offerings especially for late nights in summer,” Jason Yu, general manager of Kantar Worldpanel, told China Daily. “By doing so it can appeal to younger consumers.”
The response has generally been positive. “This chicken bowl is a wonder! I thought it would just be so-so, but it turns out to be delightful. Those who like sweet and spicy will like it. That said, it doesn’t resemble any traditional chicken bowl,” was the verdict of one netizen on the Sichuan-hotpot skewers.
“They are rather good value for money, I am going to buy some more after work so that my mom can share the treats with her dancing mates at the square,” added another enthusiast (a box of 12 skewers sells for Rmb59; the braised bowl of chicken parts costs Rmb14).
The broader response from customers backs up KFC’s menu makeover.
According to food delivery platform Meituan Dianping, hotpot commanded the largest share of the country’s Rmb4.2 trillion ($610 billion) online orders for food last year. It accounted for about a fifth of the total, with skewers being the most ordered items. The report also found that small eateries selling hot snacks make up a substantial share (44% of total food outlets). Braised bites have got so popular that three retail chains that focus on these food types are now multi-billion yuan companies (see WiC445).
The trend also reflects how the lifestyles of Chinese urbanites are getting more nocturnal. Night-time spending now makes up half of the daily outlay of people in tier-one cities, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
And ‘night treat’ midnight orders on Ele.me, Alibaba’s food delivery platform, have spiked for much of the last month across a range of cities. Hainan’s Haikou saw a 132% increase and Jiangsu’s Yizheng logged 222% growth.
It being summer, other culinary choices that are also getting media attention include ‘Chinese flavoured’ ice creams.
Take the radical new flavour introduced by Zhengzhou-based brand Aoxue: double-salted duck egg ice cream popsicles. On Missfresh, a fresh food e-commerce platform backed by Tencent, the Aoxue recipe proved the best-selling ice cream in May and June with a 16.2% market share, according to news portal 36Kr. Sold for Rmb5 each, the new line has raked in $40 million for Aoxue since its launch, Xinhua says.
However, demand may start to dip after local media reported that E. coli had been found in one of the popsicles by food safety authorities in Wenzhou.
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