A recent report has revealed the illegal and unsanitary practices used by countless boxed meal sellers in Zhengzhou. Vendors of boxed meals, a popular and cheap choice of lunch among white-collar workers in China, are ubiquitous near office spaces in the capital of Henan province. “Wherever there are office workers, there will be boxed meal vendors. You can find almost a thousand of vendors in Zhengzhou,” one unnamed box meal seller said in a Tencent News report.
“boxed meals are popular among the white-collar class because they cost less than 10 RMB,” one worker said in the report. “Normal restaurants would charge about 10 to 20 yuan for such a meal.”
Boxed meal consumers typically care little about the quality and more about the cost of the food. The sellers usually reach customers by handing out leaflets and cards, leaving buyers with little clue as to where their cheap meals actually come from.
Turns out, the truth might be hard to swallow. One vendor surnamed Liu in Zhengzhou summarized three principles of making money in the boxed meal business: don’t get a legal license, only buy the cheapest ingredients and “do something” with the oil. Erm.
Another former vendor, surnamed Xu, said in the report: “I could sell around 300 boxes every day in the past. Once I sold 50 boxes, I made all my costs back.” Xu said he started selling boxed meals when he realized how much his friend was making by doing it.
“I’d make about 10 kinds of dishes every day and bring the food to the street to sell,” said Xu. He admitted that there were a lot of “secrets” to making money in the boxed meal business and that “cutting the cost of renting” was one of the more important ones. He told media that he rented a house for only 300 RMB per month, including the space near the outdoor stairs. He used the stair space as a kitchen. “People were passing through the stair space everyday. How could it be clean?” said Xu.
To further decrease cost of business, Xu bought the cheapest food which could only be found at night. He kept up the gig for about three years. When asked about how much he had made in total, Xu kept silent and said, “I’m not doing it now. I’m afraid of suffering retribution.”
There are a number of ways vendors cut costs for their so-called “black boxed meals”, including using cheap but unhealthy oil and paying estate offices “protection fees” to ward off official inspections.
By Dina Li