BEIJING (AFP) - Michelangelo’s David stands proud next to the Eiffel Tower in a Chinese display, flanked by the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army - all made of chocolate.
The edible exhibit reflects not only how badly confectionery sellers want to reach the world’s most populous country, but also what tremendous effort it takes.
China’s increasingly wealthy shoppers have enthusiastically embraced global trends from coffee to Hollywood films to smartphones, and become the world’s largest market for goods from drinks to cars.
Yet when it comes to chocolate the average Chinese - having little sweet tooth or familiarity with it - only consumes 100 grams a year, the equivalent of two Snickers bars.
By comparison the Japanese eat 11 times more chocolate, Americans 44 times, and Germans 82 times as much, market research firm Euromonitor said in a report in November.
“The chocolate market is in its infancy and it’s still there even 30 years” after the country opened up to the world, said industry expert Lawrence Allen, adding that “it was totally foreign to the palate of the people at the time”.
Overall retail sales in China have risen an average 17 percent annually for the past five years and the fast-growing country’s luxury market is projected to grow 20 percent a year for the next decade. That makes the expansion in chocolate sales - projected at 10 percent through 2015 - look torpid by comparison.
But Allen, the author of Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Chinese Consumers, and others are optimistic that the treat will take root in China as exposure spreads. Raphael Wermuth, spokesman for Swiss-based chocolate maker Barry Callebaut, cited the way China embraced the foreign habit of drinking coffee. The trend has grown so popular - thanks largely to the cachet of coffee shops, rather than the taste of the drink - that China is set to become Starbucks’ second-largest market next year.