A cup of instant noodles fresh out of the microwave oven. Photo: iStock
A cup of instant noodles fresh out of the microwave oven. Photo: iStock

Instant noodles appear to be sliding down the takeaway menu in China. As consumers in the world’s second largest economy become more health-conscious, this standard snack is starting to lose its appeal.

In 2013, more than 42.2 billion packets of instant noodles were sold in China and Hong Kong.

But last year sales tumbled to 38.5 billion packets, according to the World Instant Noodle Association, a drop of 17%.

Numbers like these have left a bitter taste in the mouth of food manufacturers and have signaled a seismic shift in China’s eating habits

“The decline of instant noodle sales shows a change in China’s consumption patterns,” Zhao Ping, of the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, told China Daily.

“Consumers are more interested in life quality than just filling their bellies these days,” Zhao added.

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The country’s expanding middle class is one of the main reasons for soggy noodle sales. Another is the rise of rural China.

During the past three years there have been less migrant workers pouring into the country’s mega-cities after the success of Beijing’s anti-poverty drive in rural regions.

“Sales have declined because far fewer low-paid workers are moving to or living in cities, where they are one of the biggest consumers of instant noodles,” Zhang Xin, associate professor in the department of economics and finance at Tongji University, told Global Times.

Up to 2014, the number of rural migrants moving to cities was on the rise. But last year there were 1.7 million fewer compared to 2015, China government data revealed.

Food apps offering free delivery services have also played a part in the decline, as well as a thriving service sector, based around affordable cafes, restaurants and small outlets.

This trend was perfectly illustrated by Geng Mei, an English teacher in Beijing. She recalled tucking into a bowl of steaming instant noodles as a child . . . and loved the taste and texture.

But now, it is a different story.

“Cheap and delicious, instant noodles were so popular when I was a child,” Geng, who is in her 30s, told Global Times. “But now I can’t even remember the last time I had them.”

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