Primitive forms of forks – made from animal bones – have been unearthed in burial sites in China’s Gansu province. They date back 4,000 years and predate by a few centuries the usage of chopsticks.
It is not known why the ancient Chinese abandoned the three-pronged utensil for something that works more like a lever. Perhaps it was because the influential sage Confucius deemed forks to be a symbol of violence. Some historians suggest that the Chinese preferred to economise on the use of cooking fuels by pre-slicing meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces, making chopsticks more practical. Another possibility: forks were inappropriate for eating some local delicacies such as broth-filled dumplings.
With 1.4 billion people using them today, chopsticks represent a huge market in China – so much so that they are fuelling an initial public offering by one of their major manufacturers: Suncha Technology.
The Hangzhou-based kitchenware company said in a filing last month that it is looking to raise Rmb425 million ($66 million) through a flotation on Shenzhen’s main board. Nearly 65% of the funds from its share sale will be put towards building a new manufacturing facility in Zhejiang province to boost its production capacity.
For the last three years, Suncha’s chopsticks sales have been hovering at around 300 million pairs per year, making it the company’s most profitable product as well as the biggest income contributor.
In its IPO prospectus, Suncha noted that while chopsticks made with bamboo were seeing declining sales, those made in alloy and stainless steel were increasingly in demand.
“Alloy chopsticks are resistant to bending and mold development. They can also withstand temperatures as high as 220 degrees Celcius for disinfection,” said Suncha, explaining why chopsticks made of such material had registered a 78% jump in sales to Rmb133 million through the three years to 2020. These sales were double those of its utensils made of bamboo (alloy chopsticks were sold for Rmb2.5 per pair on average versus Rmb0.38 for their bamboo counterpart).
One internet hoax that occurred earlier this year had Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg supposedly urging the Chinese to stop using chopsticks in order to save trees. It turned out to be another example of fake news, however. Nevertheless, founded in 2002, Suncha was originally inspired by its founder Zheng Chenglie’s awareness of environmental protection issues.
We first mentioned the company in 2009 (see WiC29) and early on Zheng saw a growing opportunity in society’s changing attitudes towards wood wastage and disposable products. Besides bamboo, he has continued to drive Suncha to develop more eco-friendly materials such as polylactic acid-based kitchenware (its range of offerings number over 1,000 – another key product category is chopping boards).
Complementing its existing production plants, Suncha’s new manufacturing facility will be able to deliver an annual additional output of 100 million pairs of chopsticks, 10 million chopping boards, and 4,000 tonnes of plant fibre composites.
Operating four brands, the company reported net profit of Rmb89.8 million last year, up 30% on the year, as revenue reached Rmb834 million.
After taking Suncha public the 51 year-old Zheng will retain a 43% interest in the firm and his wife will hold around 15%.
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