Local shoppers sample the delights of Beijing’s Sanyuanli Market

A stroll through Beijing’s Sanyuanli Market is guaranteed to ignite your passion for cooking and your enjoyment of life.

As one of the last surviving fresh food markets in Beijing, Sanyuanli Market, located in the embassy district in Chaoyang, is renowned for providing fresh meat, fruit and seasonings from all over the world for the local expat community and nearby five-star hotels.

More than two decades of experience have imbued the 139 shop owners with knowledge of how to source all manner of products to meet the most diversified consumer requests, leading the market to be dubbed the “United Nations of Food”.

However, rising rents and competition from offline and online fresh food retailers are creating challenges for business owners in the market.

Pu Xiaojun, who owns a shop comprised of two booths in Sanyuanli Market, specializing in foreign cheese and butter, said profits have been squeezed sharply in recent years and the number of visitors is down. Pu, who is originally from Tangshan, Hebei province, moved to the capital to sell fruit and vegetables in the market 20 years ago.

Later, she bought the cheese booth from a friend who used to work in a Western restaurant, and started to trade cheese, butter and other Western food products. Her shop is home to more than 100 kinds of cheese and dozens of kinds of butter from all over the world.

About three out of 10 customers are buyers from nearby restaurants and the rest are local residents, Pu said.

“Unlike supermarkets, where consumers have to buy a whole piece of packaged cheese, here we offer any amount you want and it is fresher and cheaper,” said Pu.

“I know exactly how much I am going to sell and I don’t have high inventory and therefore smaller losses,” said Pu.

She said the market and business people in it have grown a lot in the past two decades.

“We offer good service and high-quality products because what our customers want is top quality. No one would last here without offering good products and good prices.”

After a recent refurbishment, the rents this year have gone up 30 percent year-on-year, and water and electricity bills have also risen. “Our profits have dropped by at least one-third compared to last year,” said Pu.

Asked about the future of the shop, Pu shook her head. “Young people are not coming here to buy dairy products. They prefer to shop online,” she said.

A general manager of Sanyuanli Market, surnamed Wu, told China Daily that the scale of the retail operations of the market has not declined and the market rents have grown thanks to the rent rise.

Shop owners in the market have started to adapt to online retailing by connecting with their customers through WeChat, Wu said. Customers can order and pay through WeChat.

Zhao Ping, director of the international trade research department of the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, said the popularity of Sanyuanli Market depends on how it positions itself to meet local high-end demand.

“How they respond to the diverse and specific consumer requests is something that large-scale supermarkets won’t be able to offer,” Zhao said.

Yao Rufang, a 40-year-old Beijing resident who frequently shops for imported fresh fruit at Sanyuanli Market, said the product quality is consistent and that it is also a fun way to spend time with family members at the weekend.

“Bargaining, tasting fresh food and conversations about where products are from are all part of the market’s magic,” Yao said. “It offers a chance to bond with other people rather than some self-checkout machines.”

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