How Starbucks became one of the top Moon Cake seller in China?

What is a moon cake & what does it represent in Chinese Culture?

Moon cake is a Chinese bakery product traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival is for lunar worship and moon watching when moon cakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy.

Traditionally, moon cakes are offered between friends or at family gatherings while celebrating the festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important Chinese festivals.

Moon cake: face consumption and social weapon in China

In today’s China, the meaning of moon cake has changed fundamentally. It means much more than a kind of bakery product. It’s more like a kind of face consumption goods and social tool.

And many people have to pay for their extra meaning. In 2019, China’s moon cake output was about 364,000 tons, a year-on-year increase of 1.4%; sales were about 19.67 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 7.9%. China’s moon cake sales in 2019 reached 1.38 billion pieces, which is equivalent to eating one piece of moon cake for every Chinese.

However, these moon cakes are not all bought by themselves. Nowadays, under the marketing, moon cakes are not only an essential food for a family reunion and mutual gifts between close relatives but also a weapon in social courtesy.

In 2019, Chinese consumers who are willing to buy moon cakes up to 60.4%, of which 20.6% intend to buy them as gifts, accounting for more than 1/3. Part of the 39.6% of consumers who do not plan to buy, because their company will give them moon cakes as gifts instead of buying it themselves.

Moon Cakes for everyday peoples

For common people, Mid-Autumn not only means a festival for the family to get together but also means the time for sending gifts. However, to prepare gifts is not an easy thing. Most people choose moon cakes as gifts for friends and colleagues. However, it has lasted for decades and you can hardly find some moon cakes special that can keep it in the receiver’s mind.

Gift Moon Cake Segment for Companies and government employees

Most companies in China have made budgets for gifts. And Mid-autumn is time to use the budget. And again, most people choose moon cake as their gift for their customers, officials, and partners.

On the one hand, companies make a pretty big budget for that; on the other hand, you have to choose the right type of moon cakes and send them to the right people.

Moon cakes are also subjected to trends in China

As a result, cheap traditional moon cakes that the Chinese have eaten for decades have lost their market. It has become a kind of high-class food. At the same time, most local companies focus on making gift moon cakes. Some companies have even made real gold and silver moon cakes to attract gift buyers.

Foreign companies also discover that moon cakes can help them make money and make new types of moon cakes such as ice cream, coffee, green tea moon cakes to attract young Chinese buyers.

Although gift moon cakes take the most market, most people do not like those expansive gift moon cakes as the following posts online:


“those mooncakes cost over ¥10,000 do not belong to food, but tools to corrupt officials.”


“If zongzi and moon cakes at a sky-high price still smell like food, those real gold and silver moon cakes simply smell the stink of corruption and money”

The Middle Autumn festival boosts other products sales

Three Squirrels – One of the top nuts brands in China.

The Mid Autumn festival together with China’s Golden Week holiday has boosted consumption in many sectors, including snakes and beverages. This is the largest festival since the Covid-19 was brought under control. Here we list several bestsellers on China’s e-commerce platforms:

  • Guangdong-style moon cakes
  • Fruit baskets
  • Dairy products
  • Assorted nuts
  • Women’s winter wear
  • Liquor
  • Cosmetics

Besides our star product for this day – the moon cake, there are other products preferred by Chinese as gifts. Fruits baskets, dairy products, assorted nuts are very popular in China when the Chinese want to give gifts. This can be seen through the above list.

New players in the market to share the big “cake”

Although moon cakes are traditional foods, in order to satisfy the savvy taste buds of the Chinese, there is no lack of innovation in the market. Today, from nuts moon cakes to snowy moon cakes, moon cake brands have been committed to taste innovation and beautifying packaging to attract consumers.

In recent years, in the face of the booming moon cake market, many new players have tried to break in with new products to get a share of the “cake”.

Starbucks is one of them. Brands such as Starbucks, Heytea, and Naixue have obvious cross-border advantages. They rely on the coffee and milk tea market position, which can turn moon cakes into afternoon tea snacks and handy gifts. Starbucks is now a player of weight in the market.

Moon cakes by Starbucks

Starbucks’s moon cakes are not only expensive but also very popular. At the time when Daoxiang Village – one of China’s most famous traditional pastry shop, sells the moon cake at around 12 yuan each, Starbucks had sold each moon cake for about 60 yuan and customers line up for buying their cakes! Why? Let’s see together what are their main strategies to make such a cross-border success.

Packages catering to Chinese attract traffic

Lyfen Mid Autumn Festival Packaging by GMA

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Starbucks has launched an exclusive limited gift card and moon cake packages, which are quite a Chinese style: Lanterns, full moon, lotus leaves, laurels, lakes are all beautiful Chinese festival elements! Those aesthetic Chinese style design has attracted a lot of attention.

It is very important to know what Chinese people like to see and like to buy on this special day. Based on a deep understanding of Chinese consumers’ preference, Starbucks has worked out a successful plan to boost their sales, with the help of the Chinese Middle Autumn Festival.

Exhausting all efforts to market on Chinese social media

If you think that Starbucks’ propaganda is just about cards and displays, you are wrong.
In this year’s moon cake sales, Starbucks has done full-scale promotion in multi-social media channels such as official accounts, mini-programs, and Weibo.

Starbucks moon cake publications on Weibo, WeChat

Long before the day of the festival, Starbucks has launched marketing campaigns to gain as much attention as possible. Those activities have brought Starbucks numerous traffic, thus sales. Social media marketing plays an essential and efficient role in the Chinese market because social media is very important in Chinese modern life and Chinese people are easy to be influenced by KOLs on Chinese social platforms.

WeChat has more than 1.2 billion registered users and is no doubt the largest social media in China. Through the WeChat official account, brands can interact with their audience and publish posts about their products or services. WeChat has launched the mini-program function, through which viewers can directly purchase on this platform without downloading any apps. It is integrated into the WeChat.

With more than 550 million users, Weibo is the largest open social media in China. As it is free and open to everyone, it is thus a good place for mass marketing and KOL marketing, just like what Starbucks has done. Content of good quality and associated with Chinese social hot subjects can generate huge traffic.

O2O selling mode works great with moon cakes (but not only)

In the offline area, it can be said that Starbucks has achieved the ultimate in experience marketing.

After the start of the pre-sale period, the store conducted pastry tasting activities during peak hours in the morning, midnight, and evening. The moon cakes were cut into small pieces for customers in the store to taste for free, and coffees suitable for matching will be recommended.

Moreover, Starbucks encourages all stores to use their imagination to create and pose with moon cakes. Beautiful “works” undoubtedly attracted a lot of customers to take pictures, then buy products. Self-portraits of coffee and shared on social media can be exchanged for moon cakes.

gma agency
Starbucks’s success shows that a deep understanding of Chinese culture and marketing tools along with appropriate marketing strategies can result in big business achievement.

If you are interested in the Chinese market, contact GMA, a professional Chinese digital marketing agency based in Shanghai. With our excellent and passionate team, we are capable to help your explorer the Chinese market.

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  • Anna Chen

    Dear sir/madam,
    my name is Anna and I’ve read the article ‘mooncakes more gift than food’ on the marketingtochina homepage. I’m now writing my thesis and my theme is exactly about the localization strategy of Starbucks in China. One of the strategies that I think Starbucks is in the lead is its cultural adaptation. I have a quick question on the data here as it said that ‘in 2019, China’s moon cake output was about 364,000 tons, a year-on-year increase of 1.4%; sales were about 19.67 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 7.9%. China’s moon cake sales in 2019 reached 1.38 billion pieces, which is equivalent to eating one piece of moon cake for every Chinese.’ Where does the data come from? Is it from the interview or on the annual report of Starbucks? How do you guarantee the accuracy of the data? Thanks for your time and I’m looking forward to the feedback.

    Best regards,

    • Hello Anna. Sorry to disappoint, but at the data comes from 2019, it’s impossible for us now to remember where it came from, but might be from the annual report of Starbucks from that year.

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