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This is Story in the Story.
Instant noodles, once the cornerstone of Chinese fast food, have returned to the national spotlight after years of steady decline.
Due to the rise of food delivery services and the importance attached to healthy diets, instant noodles were categorized as junk food due to their high fat and sodium content.
According to the World Instant Noodles Association, instant noodle sales dropped from 46 million packets in 2013 to almost 39 million in 2017, a decrease of roughly 15 percent.
In May, after short videos featuring mouthwatering instant noodles went viral on the Chinese video-sharing app Douyin, they began to make a comeback.
And although small noodle restaurants have proven to be successful, the instant noodle sector continues to struggle.
A steady decrease in China’s migrant population, along with high-speed trains offering a wide variety of snack food and advanced food delivery services have led to a decline in demand among Chinese consumers.
Today’s Story in the Story looks at how instant noodles are beginning to make a comeback but still have a long way to go as modernization has created challenges larger than expected.
A resident in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province purchases instant noodle at a supermarket. (Photo: VCG)
After a hard day’s work, Du Zhenna and her husband enter a small restaurant in Yinchuan, capital city of Northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
They stop in front of a wall and gaze at over 100 international instant noodle brands from countries like South Korea and Thailand.
"It's nice to try the flavors of different countries in one restaurant," Du said, and added, "the noodles are tasty and have good presentation. It's just like what I saw online."
Today, Yinchuan is home to 15 instant noodle restaurants.
Xu Hongli, a local noodle shop owner was inspired to open his own restaurant after watching the viral noodle videos. His restaurant has been a hit ever since it opened and served over 2,000 visitors during the week-long National holiday.
"Diners like taking selfies with the 'wall of instant noodles' and then posting them online along with short videos," Xu said.
However, other sectors within the instant noodle industry continue to struggle.
Zhang Xin, associate professor with the department of economics and finance at Tongji University, says the drop in China’s migrant population has hurt industry sales.
China's migrant population decreased for the first time in about 30 years in 2015, as the economic rise of China's interior regions lured them back from coastal cities. Skills and capital acquired in cities are also helping migrant workers start their own businesses in their hometowns.
Instant noodles of different brands are seen on shelves in a supermarket. (Photo: IC)
Another unexpected influence has been the explosive growth of the country’s high-speed railway network.
"I ate instant noodles for breakfast, lunch, and as a midnight snack during my 20-hour train trips in the past," said Tang Mingsheng, who works in Eastern China’s Fujian Province.
"Trains were once an important market, but rail stations are ordering less," said Long Shuhai, an instant noodle distributor in Yunnan Province.
Today, rail lines and stations offer Haagen-Dazs ice cream, imported fruit, and lunch boxes, all of which have led to dwindling instant noodle sales.
Another threat has also been the rise in food delivery services.
From her office, Geng can see delivery men crowding the streets below, hurrying from office to office to drop off meals.
"Food delivery gives consumers access to quick meals while catering to more diversified tastes," she said.
Delivery services have even entered high-speed train marketplace.
Over the summer, 27 major railway hubs across China launched a pilot on-demand delivery service for trains passing through select stations.
"The decline in instant noodle sales shows a shift in consumption patterns," explained Zhao Ping with the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. "These days, consumers are more interested in the quality living rather than just filling their stomachs," Zhao said.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe, and Grace Xinyi Song. Music by: bensound.com. Text from Global Times and China Daily.)