Today, the gifting of mooncakes plays an integral role in one’s business and network. It has become an etiquette for brands and organisations to present mooncakes to their clients and partners as a gesture of appreciation. This has contributed to fuelling the demand for mooncakes housed in luxurious and intricate gift boxes. Whether their packaging is elaborate, or excessive – let’s find out.
The different phases
In Chinese culture, the roundness of mooncakes is thought to symbolise completeness and reunion. Feasting on mooncakes and drinking tea with the family, while appreciating the moon at its fullest, is a custom passed down from generation to generation. Centred on celebrating the harmonious spirit in the family, the gifting of mooncakes to families and relatives is a practice steeped in time-honoured tradition.
Nowadays, mooncakes are generally versatile – available in both sweet and savoury flavours. Rumour has it that most traditional mooncakes distributed to various hotels are from the same few suppliers. So, what sets these brands apart then boils down to the use of packaging to vie for your attention.
Unboxing traditions for sustainability
I’m sure most households would have repurposed the signature mooncake tins to contain their sewing supplies or jewellery. I know mine did. Every year, besides looking forward to eating the pastry, one also eagerly anticipates the packaging designs launched by various brands. And it’s no surprise to see many opportunistic entrants wanting a slice (pun intended) of this lucrative pie – such as Shih Lin Taiwan Street Snacks and luxury brand, Louis Vuitton, that have no business in mooncakes.
Well, you might have wondered why people are not deterred by the hefty price tags that come with mooncakes. If you think about it, they are the only food item that is representative of the festival today; as opposed to Chinese New Year where the wide variety of snacks and goodies leaves all of us spoilt for choice. No single treat can dominate the spending power of consumers like mooncakes do during Mid-Autumn Festival.
Apart from the above, the workmanship that goes into designing and making the packaging also explains the high price tag. And yet, they are still highly sought after by the masses. The significance of food in most major Chinese festivals implies that hopping on the mooncake bandwagon becomes the perfect opportunity to position your brand close to the Chinese consumers. In fact, this is what Western luxury brands do to engage their audience in order to tap on the lucrative Chinese market.
In 2019, Gucci reportedly produced the most expensive mooncake gift box of the year. Coming in a hefty red suitcase, six mooncakes are housed in tin boxes, each sporting a different Gucci pattern – nailing it on the reinforcement of their brand identity. They also included a portable chess set on the left side of the box.
However, fancy packaging is also argued to be the manifestation of consumerism waste. According to the head of environmental certifications at the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), Mr Liow Chean Siang mentioned that about 40 per cent of the (mooncake) packaging is unnecessary and wasteful. Apart from applying them for the outward appearance, paper and plastic are also used in the inner packaging “to prevent spoilage, contamination and damage during transportation”.
Singaporeans may be religiously depositing their items in the big blue recycling bins situated near our flats. But, recycling is unfortunately not a foolproof solution because not everything can be recycled. For example, packaging that is contaminated by food waste; or covered with a layer of glossy varnish or waterproof wax cannot be recycled.
In response to green consumerism, some brands have tried switching to more sustainable materials, but they find themselves caught between environmental sustainability and food safety. At present, the common practice is to, at least, make packaging functional.
Thinking out of the box
With the rise of conscious consumerism today, businesses can perhaps give customers the option to say no to elaborate packaging in return for a lower price. Some may comment that it is only wise to direct the consumers’ focus back to the core essence of Mid-Autumn Festival itself and not let ornate packaging steal the spotlight.
But let’s not forget that the act of gifting is paramount in the Chinese culture. Intertwined with the concept of “face” (面子 miàn zi), gift-giving is essential to build lasting relationships. And that is when packaging rises to the occasion.
But, don’t lose sight of your purpose. In this case, the spirit of Mid-Autumn Festival.
Although Gucci’s gift box was on-brand, the lack of cultural resonance led to the label’s downfall in the mooncake battle. Prada, on the contrary, was a perfect exemplar of nailing both cultural resonance and brand identity (see above image). Offering a fresh take on packaging, they came up with a circular gift box in their popular banana print. The mooncakes were arranged in a circle to symbolise reunion, perfectly capturing the essence of Mid-Autumn Festival.
Rule of thumb: dress to the occasion. Packaging should not be seen as at odds with the spirit of festivals and celebrations. Minimalistic or extravagant, your brand is in the best position to judge if the packaging works well for you. Choosing the right packaging helps you engage your target audience and is sure to provide intensified brand exposure for your label. Also, when possible, choose environmentally-friendly materials and design packaging that can be repurposed for other uses – because everyone has a part to play in green sustainability.
As the Content Creator at The Outsiders Co. (now Superminted), Jasmine is a storyteller who translates her love for learning into content that is entertaining and relatable for the audience. She believes in connecting with the audience through the words she pens – or types.