Dark side of the mooncakes: China's war of graft hits high-end pastries

Sun Sep 15, 2013 6:08pm EDT
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By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) - Gold-encrusted mooncakes stuffed with shark's fin are out of favour ahead of this week's mid-autumn festival in China after a crackdown on corruption killed off demand for such lavish pastries - long used as a way to bribe officials.

With more calories than a Big Mac, mooncakes are given as gifts to family, friends and employees during China's Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 19 this year.

In recent years lavish varieties have popped up with jewellery-box style packaging, allowing cash, liquor or other goodies to be hidden in with the pastries.

But an anti-corruption drive by President Xi Jinping has left the pricier treats languishing on the shelves, shopkeepers and analysts said, even as sales of more traditional lotus seed- and sesame paste-stuffed varieties were unhurt.

"What has taken a deep dive is the high-end mooncakes more typically associated with corruption," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group.

The gilded age of mooncakes was last year, when pastries stuffed with gold flakes, shark's fin and abalone made headlines. In rural Shanxi province, gold-filled variations sold for more than $1,000, local newspapers reported.

Mid-sized China Merchants Bank Co Ltd (600036.SS: Quote) (3968.HK: Quote) marketed mooncakes made of solid gold and silver, state media said.

A spokesperson at the bank's headquarters in Shenzhen could not be reached for comment but a manager at a branch in Beijing said she was not aware of any gold or silver cakes being sold this year.   Continued...

Feshly-baked mooncakes pass along a conveyor belt at a mooncakes factory in Shanghai September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song