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September 14, 2012

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Mid-Autumn cakes: Overpriced, over-packaged and over the moon

OVER-PACKAGING of products has long been a bane in China. And despite repeated official attempts to put an end to the practice, it shows no signs of abating.

And with the Mid-Autumn Festival approaching, mooncake producers have gone into overdrive in their push to decorate - rather overdo - their mooncake packages.

The city watchdog's pleas to tone down the packaging have fallen on deaf ears with the seasonal snack adorned in spacious and heavily-decorated packaging to cater to the demands of gift givers, a Shanghai Daily investigation shows.

At least half of the mooncake boxes in local stores risk breaking national standard rules on size or price restrictions with a single lavishly packed box easily selling for as much as several hundred yuan, according to the investigation.

Multi-layer packaging and over-spacious boxes are a common sight ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which this year falls on September 30 and when Chinese people eat mooncakes as a tradition.

In a downtown supermarket near Zhongshan Park in Changning District, a huge mooncake box was found to only contain four cakes, each weighing about 100 grams, and eight smaller ones. The biggest mooncake inside was only about four forefingers in diameter but the metal gift box itself was about 70 centimeters long, 30 centimeters wide and 10 centimeters thick.

According to a salesman surnamed Wang a pack of six mooncakes, each weighing 100 grams, was being sold in three different packages. The normal package costs 158 yuan (US$25). An extra-big luxury package, about 60 centimeters long, 60 centimeters wide and 20 centimeters thick and containing the same six mooncakes, is sold for 398 yuan, revealed Wang.

With pleas going unheard, the city government is now moving toward legislation to force manufacturers to toe the line on packaging.

A draft of a future local law suggests imposing a fine of up to 100,000 yuan on manufacturers and sellers each time they are caught wasting resources on unnecessary packaging.

A national standard on food packaging mandates that the packaging cost should be less than 20 percent of the product's selling price.

It also requires that empty space in a packet of cookies or baked food should be below 60 percent of the overall box size and such foods should also carry no more than three layers of packaging.

But the standard comes with no mandatory penalties, which is believed to be the major reason behind the unfettered over-packaging trend.

This, however, does not mean that everyone is opposed to the opulent packages. Some locals prefer to buy such luxury boxes because they are ideal to give away as a seasonal gift.

"Are there really so many people who purchase mooncakes just to eat them? I think most buy them as gifts," said a female office worker surnamed Ni, 52.

A local mooncake coupon company told Shanghai Daily that it used to sell mooncakes without fancy packaging to satisfy the needs of those who just wanted to enjoy the cakes, but very few were actually sold.


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