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Pineapple cakes boost Taiwan's rural industries

The popularity of Taiwan's pineapplke cakes has not only boosted agricultural tourism, it has also revived rural industries in the island. What used to be a mere traditional symbolic cake in Taiwanese wedding engagements and a festival pastry has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2011 alone, the Taipei Bakery Association reported that sales of pineapple cakes in the country has reached NT25 billion (US$845 million), making it truly a product of economic significance in Taiwan.

A recent internet source on Taiwan's food culture reported that during the early times, pineapples were one of the country's most important cash crops. During the Japanese era, different new varieties from overseas were introduced, laying the groundwork for the pineapple-processing industry. In 1971, some 4.01 million boxes of canned pineapples were exported. This outstanding contribution earned for the country millions of dollars and fostered prosperity in Taiwan's farming villages. Later, due to rising costs of production as well as low-cost competition from Southeast Asia, pineapple exports were hit hard. In the 1980s there was a shift from focusing on processing for exports to domestic sales of fresh fruit. In recent years, with the support of the Taiwan government, value-added pineapple products became the in thing which eventually led to the birth of a vibrant pineapple cake industry, surpassing the traditional moon cakes in terms of popularity and sales.

Today, a trip to Taiwan is incomplete without one sampling or buying the famous pineapple cakes. According to Taiwan's Bureau of Statistics, shopping comprise around 50.6% of consumption by foreign tourists in the country. And among the local products, the top item that foreigners like to buy is pineapple cakes. One particular pineapple cake company called Sunny Hills, in Nantou County was able to cash in on its strategic location and innovative marketing tactics to become not only a part of the successful pineapple industry, but also a major factor in the revitalization of its rural area.

In the recently concluded international workshop entitled "Enhancement of Rural Community Revitalization in the Asian and Pacific Region" sponsored by FFTC, Ms. Hsiao-Lan Liu, Assistant Professor of the Graduate Institute of Hakka Political Economy at the National Central University in Taoyuan, Taiwan talked about the role of how a product like pineapple cake can help boost the rural economy in the area.

Strategic location

Delivering a presentation based on her paper entitled "Pineapple Can to Pineapple Cake—A Successful Case of Rural Industry in Taiwan, " Ms. Liu reported that aside from the delicious taste and elegant packaging of pineapple cakes belonging to a company called Sunny Hills, its shop happened to be located in the Gua mountain scenic area, (northern part of the country) which is a good location to attract local and foreign tourists who flock the area especially during holidays. During the late 1990s, the owners and partners of Sunny Hills, which started as a family enterprise, were composed of tea farmers, cake masters, former employees of computer companies, etc. Together with the development of infrastructure in the mountains like the construction of biking trails, leisure and sports facilities, the owners decided to first conduct a free taste test of their pineapple cakes to the employees of Hsinchu scientific park, which is located near their shop.

Later, as people began to talk about those yummy Sunny Hills pineapple cakes, the owners decided to serve the product during snacks or tea time, and sell the elegantly packed pineapple pastries as souvenirs. It clicked instantly that soon, more workers were needed to meet the growing demand for more pineapple cakes. But the success didn't end there.

The power of cyberspace

As word spread regarding the good quality of Sunny Hills pineapple cakes, more orders from faraway places came. Soon, the owners decided to promote and sell their product in cyberspace, and in no time, with the construction of the Sunny Hills website (www.sunnyhills.com.tw), people from Taipei, Taichung, Kaoshiung and other remote areas bought pineapple cakes online.

According to Ms. Liu, the eventual online success of Sunny Hills pineapple cakes caught the attention of two businessmen who are in the manufacturing business. So impressed were they that a meeting was set up between them and the owners. In that meeting, the businessmen verbalized their intention to invest and become partners in the business. This new capital investment paved the way for the owners of Sunny Hills Company to dream bigger.

Today, as Sunny Hills Company enjoys brisk sales of their pineapple cakes in the domestic market, the owners and partners are far from being complacent. In fact, talks are now underway in doing trial shipments of their delicious product to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Japan.

With more fresh pineapples used in the making of pineapple cakes, Ms. Liu reported that a challenge faced by the owners of Sunny Hills is the disposal of the pineapple peel. In her paper, she wrote about the possibility of using the pineapple peel as a potent source of biomass energy in the future.

What is instructive about the whole Sunny Hills success story, according to Ms. Liu, is the quickness in which the owners saw the opportunity to make an ordinary product soar into world-class standards. This they did by means of 1) developing their product parallel to the development of tourism in the area; 2) involving and employing the people of the community; 3) maximizing the role of cyberspace and social media to promote and sell the product; and 4) exploration of the international market to promote pineapple cakes.


Index of Images

  • Ms. Hsiao-Lan Liu, Assistant Professor of the Graduate Institute of Hakka Political Economy at the National Central University in Taoyuan, Taiwan delivers her presentation entitled “Pineapple Can to Pineapple Cake—A Successful Case of Rural Industry in Taiwan” during the recently held international workshop on “Enhancement of Rural Community Revitalization in the Asian Pacific Region.

    Ms. Hsiao-Lan Liu, Assistant Professor of the Graduate Institute of Hakka Political Economy at the National Central University in Taoyuan, Taiwan delivers her presentation entitled “Pineapple Can to Pineapple Cake—A Successful Case of Rural Industry in Taiwan” during the recently held international workshop on “Enhancement of Rural Community Revitalization in the Asian Pacific Region.

  • (Left) The elegantly packaged Sunny Hills pineapple cakes have been enjoying brisk sales partly because of the success of its online marketing. (Right) Events like the yearly pineapple cake festival in Taipei help boost the pineapple cake industry in the country.

    (Left) The elegantly packaged Sunny Hills pineapple cakes have been enjoying brisk sales partly because of the success of its online marketing. (Right) Events like the yearly pineapple cake festival in Taipei help boost the pineapple cake industry in the country.

  • In recent years, with the support of the Taiwan government, value-added pineapple products became the in thing which eventually led to the birth of a vibrant pineapple cake industry in the country, surpassing the traditional moon cakes in terms of sales and popularity.

    In recent years, with the support of the Taiwan government, value-added pineapple products became the in thing which eventually led to the birth of a vibrant pineapple cake industry in the country, surpassing the traditional moon cakes in terms of sales and popularity.

  • While consumption of fresh pineapples in the local market is steadily on the upbeat, industry experts say more and more people also appreciate its value-added advantages like its being made into  juice, jams, marmalade and the very popular cakes which has now become a billion dollar industry.

    While consumption of fresh pineapples in the local market is steadily on the upbeat, industry experts say more and more people also appreciate its value-added advantages like its being made into juice, jams, marmalade and the very popular cakes which has now become a billion dollar industry.

  • Different types of pineapple cakes are exhibited and sampled at the annual pineapple cake festival in Taipei, Taiwan.

    Different types of pineapple cakes are exhibited and sampled at the annual pineapple cake festival in Taipei, Taiwan.