|Customers buy moon cakes at a retail store in Ba Trieu Street, Ha Noi. Mooncake prices are unreasonably high - and many of the cakes have shrunk insize. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Viet
HA NOI (VNS) — The high cost of moon cakes is tantamount to "pickpocketing" consumers, a former deputy head of the Ha Noi Department of Trade told Viet Nam News.
Vu Vinh Phu said he has kept a close watch on input costs for many years, and moon cake prices are now unreasonably high, with customers now paying for marketing and other costs.
Every year in the run up to the Mid-Autumn Festival confectionary firms run elaborate marketing campaigns, with major players like Kinh Do and Bibica splurging on TV advertising, which is expensive.
Khanh Pham, a producer at Film Ninja Productions, told that making a 30-second commercial costs at least VND300 million (US$13,300) while advertising a 30-second prime time slot for it costs VND120 million ($5,330).
Thus, the marketing costs could run into billions of dong.
Packaging has also contributed to the rise in cake prices. According to Tuoi tre (Youth) newspaper, in a VND1 million ($44) moon-cake box, the cost of packaging accounts for 30-40 per cent of the retail price.
Before the cakes reach the final buyer, there are also expenses like putting up temporary kiosks at busy locations, printing banners, making sales kits, hiring salespeople.
Distributors usually rent places outsides popular malls like Vincom Ba Trieu and Hang Da Galeria and busy streets like Ba Trieu, Phan Dinh Phung, Kim Ma, and Le Van Luong.
It is estimated the rent of a 9-15sq.m stall on Ba Trieu Street to costs VND15-25 million ($666.67-1,111) a month after rising by around 5 per cent since last year.
The competition for good locations is fierce, with prime one needing to be booked at the beginning of the year. Some locations require a deposit to be made two months in advance.
Low production costs
Stuffed with traditional ingredients like lotus seeds, green bean, salted egg, pork fat, and watermelon seeds, a moon cake does not cost much to make.
Nguyen Thi Hue, who has run a bakery at home for four years, said a cake using the best quality materials costs around VND10,000 (US$ 0.44).
It contains 20 grammes of wheat flour (VND15,000 or $0.66 per kilogramme) and 50 grams of filling (VND70,000 or $3.11 per kilo).
Sticky rice cakes require 50 grammes of sticky powder (VND55,000 or $2.44 per kilo) and 50 grams of filling.
Plastic packaging and desiccant bags increase the final cost to VND10,000-15,000.
Hue said for big companies, with their scale, the costs would be much lower.
But mid-end companies sell a five-ingredient moon cake for VND36,000 – 94,000 ($1.6 – 4.17) and a box of four cakes for VND300,000 to nearly VND1 million.
Authorities do not regulate prices, leaving manufacturers to their devices.
Phu said every year six market supervision teams are formed to check the production and quality of moon cake manufacturers and can penalise them if the quality is not as advertised.
"The traditional values attached to moon cakes have become greatly skewed," folk culture researcher Nguyen Hung Vy said.
"[The cakes] are no longer a traditional custom but have become gifts instead."
Moon cakes are one of the traditional aspects of the Mid-Autumn Festival together with dragon dances, fairytales and folk toys.
This year it falls on September 27. — VNS