People are flocking to a Chinese shop that uses locally sourced vinegar to flavour its ice cream. With foodie status standing in as a significant cultural marker reflecting high standing within society, people in China are seeking out odd flavours that prove they are adventurous, because they can. We discover the insights behind the food trend and understand how novel foods act as a status symbol for experience hunters.
China’s Shanxi province has a 3,000 year-long history of vinegar production, with the sour substance engrained in the province’s cultural heritage. Millennia later, an ice cream shop in the Shanxi city of Taiyuan has made vinegar-flavoured ice cream out of the Laochencu mature vinegar. The unusual cones have quickly become a crowd favourite. "We use mature vinegar that has been fermented for three years or five years," says Chen Yichao, a store employee. "The vinegar ice-cream accounts for at least 60% of all ice-cream cones sold every day."
It’s an unexpected paradox, but as healthy regimes have become more influential and grocery prices have fallen substantially to make staying at home the more sensible choice, eating out has become associated with irrationality and indulgence, and consumers demand more excess when they do so. “When we are so focused on trying to make healthy decisions all the time and eating food that we can feel good about, when we do want to indulge, we want to make sure that that indulgence is worth it,” says Elizabeth Friend, foodservice strategy analyst at Euromonitor.
Shanxi’s vinegar ice cream is a product of the booming global foodie culture, in which adventurous eating and unusual tastes come with a certain cultural capital – it’s why 48% of Gen Yers would pay more than average for a meal with new or innovative flavours. Shanxi’s ice cream panders to this desire to align oneself with the culinary avant-garde, with the business owner stating that the ice cream dessert is for those who are "brave enough to try new things."
Mira Kopolovic is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She has a Master’s degree in creative industries, which focused on artist-brand collaborations, and spends her spare time poring over dystopian literature.