Food scares boost imports, home cooking

By Christie Chen and Elaine Hou ,CNA

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The series of massive food scandals have shattered public confidence in both the government and the local food industry, leading more Taiwanese consumers to prepare their own food and buy imported products instead of depending on government actions and corporate conscience.

Months after the food scares, major online shopping sites, hypermarkets, department stores and supermarket chains across Taiwan are reporting spiking sales of products such as imported edible oil, do-it-yourself home appliances and organic vegetables.

PChome Store Inc., Taiwan’s largest online shopping platform, said it has seen a significant increase in the sale of DIY home appliances over the past few months, particularly right after the scandals broke in September.

For example, sales of oil press machines in September and October were 20 times higher than in the same period of last year, said Annie Chen, a public relations officer with PChome.

She said sales of noodle-makers were 6.5 times higher, while bread machine sales quadrupled in the two-month period compared with the corresponding months of last year.

One of the bread machine models even replaced the ubiquitous Tatung rice cooker, an iconic appliance in nearly every Taiwanese home, as the bestselling kitchen appliance on PChome in 2014, Chen said.

This spike in appliance sales means that more people are choosing to make food staples and snacks at home, according to the Taiwan unit of the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc.

Many homemakers who used to buy red bean cakes, donuts, crepes and other snacks are now making these themselves, said Rakuten, which also reported a significant increase in sales of its DIY appliances since the food safety issues erupted.

The embracing of home cooking has also been noticeable at retailers, where organic vegetable sales have hit new highs. Hypermarket brand RT-Mart said it saw a 30 percent year-on-year increase in organic vegetable sales, such as Chinese cabbage and water spinach, in November.

Local supermarket chain Pxmart saw sale of items, including carrots, double.