Buying near-expired food comes into vogue in China

Updated: July 22nd, 2021 09:40 AM IST

Buying near-expired food came into vogue in China. In recent years, the annual sales of near-expired food on Taobao doubled.

Buying near-expired food comes into vogue in China Photo

The low-price tags caught her eyes. For a bag of chocolates that normally costs around 40 yuan ($6.2), the food store on Chinas biggest online shopping website only charges 10 yuan. The chocolate she got looks and tastes exactly like the one that she had been buying. The only difference was that this bag had just six months left in its shelf life.

"The price is much lower. If I can finish the entire bag in a matter of days, what difference does approaching the expiration date make?" Zhang said. Shes among a growing cohort of Chinese millennials and Gen Zers who enjoy purchasing near-expired food at much cheaper prices. The latest report by iiMedia Research reveals that the near-expired food industry had a market size of over 30 billion yuan in 2020, with young consumers between 26 and 35 accounting for 47.8 percent. The Guangzhou-based consulting agency also finds that 4 in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to purchase and recommend best-by food.

On Taobao, there are nearly 10,000 stores like the one Zhang regularly patronizes, and in 2020, around 2.1 million users made deals on food nearing its expiration date. In the meantime, brick-and-mortar stores selling such goods are also thriving, mainly concentrated in metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing.

For 36-year-old Yang Zhi, picking snacks and daily necessities at a store called Hotmaxx nestled in the bustle and hustle of Sanlitun is a weekly habit. "Its been my one-stop shopping destination since its opening earlier this year," he told CGTN. "Theres a wide selection of commodities at 20-50 percent of the market price." Working in a food conglomerate himself, Yang is acutely aware of the need to prevent food waste. "Every day, an incredible amount of food goes in the garbage along with its packaging, which also puts a strain on the environment."

The UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 estimates 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated during 2019, which translates to 17 percent of global food production. Over 60 percent of this waste occurred at the household level while the rest came from retail establishments and foodstuff services.

During the pandemic-laden 2020, up to 811 million people worldwide were starving, an increase of 160 million people compared to 2019, according to the UNs latest report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition. About 2.37 billion people were blighted by moderate or severe food insecurity across the developing world, including Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Our worst fears are coming true," said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program. "In one year alone, the number of people in the grip of chronic hunger has risen more than in the previous five years combined."

The descent into wider famine around the world is likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic but is, in the long run, attributed more to food waste and loss. Developing and developed countries share equal responsibility when it comes to household per capita food waste generation, UNEP finds.

In the U.S., 35 percent of food went uneaten or unsold in 2019, which equates to 2 percent of the countrys GDP, as shown by ReFED – a nonprofit engaged in ending food loss and waste. Across the Pacific, food waste in the catering industry across Chinese cities every year was estimated to be between 17 to 18 billion kilograms, according to a survey by the National Peoples Congress last year. The figure in Japan is equally startling, standing at 6 million tonnes.

As the food that could have been consumed by people stricken by hunger was disposed into landfills, sewers or incinerators, the environment is further overwhelmed.

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