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How culture connects Kiwi biz to history

Chinese communities around the world this week celebrate The Moon Festival in the tradition of lunar appreciation.

The festival happens each year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar when it is believed the moon is at its brightest and roundest - signifying family reunion. 

The day is usually celebrated with family and an important part of the celebrations is eating traditional mooncakes.

It’s a tradition gaining popularity in New Zealand, offering a unique opportunity for savvy businesses to connect with a rapidly changing population - businesses like Selina Wang’s Auckland bakery.

“The mooncake is just one of our specialties, and The Moon Festival is an important traditional Chinese festival,” Wang says.

"I appreciate the experience when customers come to us with an almost impossible idea and we bring it to life.”  - Selina Wang

“So we want to use our expertise to bring the most authentic taste of mooncakes to our customers in New Zealand.”

How culture connects Kiwi biz to history

“In Chinese culture, instead of buying for themselves, people tend to buy mooncakes as present for their relatives and friends. We exchange these presents well in advance of the day. As a matter of fact, our first order for this year’s Moon Festival arrived in early May.”

Around the clock

In the weeks leading up to the festival Wang and her team of bakers worked around the clock to meet the growing demand from customers, turning out up to 600 mooncakes a day from her commercial kitchen.

“The trick of having the best taste of mooncake is to wait for a week after it is freshly taken out of the oven so the oil inside can seep through the surface, softening the skin and adding taste,” Wang says.  “We call it ‘huiyou’ in Chinese.”

Most mooncakes are made with a thin pastry skin and a sweet, dense filling.  The most popular filling, according to Wang, is whole salted egg yolks stuffed in paste made from lotus seeds or beans.

While there have always been different variations of mooncakes across China, such as the sweet bean paste, jujube paste, and the five smashed nut paste, the one most associated with the festival has always been salty egg yolks with lotus seeds, as the egg yolks represent the full moon.

Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top of Chinese characters to symbolise ‘longevity’ or ‘harmony’, depicting flowers, vines, as well as the name of the bakery and the filling inside.

Wang can incorporate company logos into the imprint for corporate clients keen to share the cultural experience with their own networks.

“Apart from individual orders, we have also received a number of customised orders from companies to present to their Asian clients as a gift and symbol to celebrate the Festival together.”

A taste of the traditional mooncake and understanding of its cultural significance is important for businesses wanting to connect with consumers in a region like Auckland where the population is changing.

Rise

Recent projections released by Statistics New Zealand show the country’s Asian population is set to double in the next 25 years, becoming 22 per cent of the total population by 2038. Auckland’s population is set to exceed two million with a rise in ethnic minority groups.

In contrast, the proportion of European or “other” category is expected to fall from 75 per cent of New Zealand’s population in 2013, to 66 per cent in 2038.

Figures reported earlier this year suggested migrants are coming to New Zealand at nearly twice the rate as Australia and more than three times the rate of the UK - migrants like Wang, who initially came to New Zealand from China as an international student. After completing her degree, Wang worked in the finance sector before deciding to purchase her own business.

Two years ago she took over a bakery shop in Wairau Valley, fulfilling a lifelong dream to have a creative outlet for her love of design and sweet things.  She soon became famous for her creative and intricate art design on cakes and pastries, as well as the fresh and healthy ingredients she uses. She recently opened a second bakery shop on Auckland’s Northshore.

Over 60 percent of her customers are Chinese migrants from the local neighbourhood.

“I’m very proud of our pastries. They look almost as delicate as art works. I also appreciate the experience when customers come to us with an almost impossible idea and we bring it to life.”

Head of Migrant Banking at ANZ Jack Hou sees migrant businesses like Wang’s playing and increasingly important role in breaking down cultural barriers as we move to a more diverse population.

“Selina has made the transition from international student to business owner,” Hou says.  “Not only does her family now run two successful bakery businesses, they also embrace our Chinese culture through traditional foods like the mooncake and are sharing that experience with local Kiwis.”

“I think it is really important that big companies like ANZ also celebrate other cultures, in New Zealand we are a multi-cultural society and there is a great opportunity for us to recognise the diversity in our country and celebrate with our customers.”

Briar McCormack is a contributor at bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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