Taiping township in North China's municipality of Tianjin looks to become the country's major chocolate production township, said Liu Shaoyong, the township's Party chief.
Located in the city's coastal Binhai New Area, the township, once a leading production center of delicious treats made from cocoa in the 1990s, vows to regain its past glory.
To this end, Taiping plans to upgrade its industrial scale, optimize its industrial chains and establish chocolate-themed scenery spots, benefiting from its coastal scenery advantages, he said.
It also plans to offer programs combining chocolate production with do-it-yourself experiences for visitors.
It is now in close collaboration with the Bohai Urban Planning and Design Institute to map out a blueprint for the chocolate township.
"In the 1990s, the township was home to more than 200 chocolate producers — a 'sweet' memory for North China people — during their wedding banquets or grand celebration ceremonies; the chocolate from Taiping was indispensable," he said.
However, it lost its strength in the past decade, with shutdown waves of small companies in the local villages due to foreign counterparts' stronger foray into the Chinese market.
Currently, a total of 19 chocolate producers are nestled in Taiping, with a combined annual production value of 400 million yuan ($57.2 million).
The township's largest chocolate producer Heijingang, which saw its total production value hit 300 million yuan last year, three times higher than the 18 other producers' combined value, has seen robust growth during the past few years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deng Jingang, president of Heijingang, said the company's strong growth momentum is due to its consolidated foundations in offline market channels — its continued expansion in shopping malls, convenience stores and supermarkets rather than the e-commerce market.
He also takes pride in that Heijingang has one of the only two production lines from Switzerland's high-tech ingredient producer Buhler in Asia.
Heijingang has different brands including Heijing, Miyu and Ebays', and its business scope includes independent brand products and an original equipment manufacturing business for other brands including Hsu Fu Chi under Nestle.
During the past three years, the company invested up to 30 million yuan annually to boost its presence in brick-and-mortar stores and more plans in the retail market are in the pipeline.
Deng said: "Those efforts have paid off. For domestic chocolate producers, online sales have narrow profits due to the ever-rising thresholds in online portals and the traffic control behind them amid the saturated competition."
Other domestic producers located in the township, including Fulienong and Putiantongle, believe they are feeling the pinch from online sales and haven't made a great foray into the online market.
"Burning money on logistics is difficult for us ... online sales have slim profits," said a delegate of another producer.
Eyeing this, the township plans to open an account on social media platform Douyin soon, to help them close the gap. Deng also noted that domestic chocolate producers are tackling challenges in attracting seasoned professionals and boosting technological innovations.
A recent research report from ChinaIRN, a market research website, indicated that foreign brands have 90 percent of the market share in the domestic chocolate sector.
The report expects that domestic producers will focus more attention on sugar reduction and dark chocolate — in a bid to snatch a bigger share of the market.