Chinese consumers are increasingly warming up to the concept of "leftover blind boxes" — or randomly packed boxes of unsold food and beverages available at discounted rates — as a way of preventing food wastage and saving costs.
Merchants are using these "mystery gift boxes" as a promotional tool to attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially younger ones.
"We launch leftover blind boxes when there is food nearing its expiry date at the end of the day. We pack products such as milk, bread, cake, and sandwiches in blind boxes, and sell these at half the price. Usually, the blind boxes are sold out quickly," said Wu Tian, a staff member at a convenience chain store in Beijing.
WeChat's leftover blind box mini program Xishi Magic Bag is registered with several bakery brands such as Bread Talk, Dim Sum Bureau of Momo, Withwheat and KenGee, and offers blind boxes containing bread to consumers.
Xishi Magic Bag usually launches blind boxes at 7 pm every day. They are priced between 11.9 yuan ($1.7) and 15.9 yuan, and contain two bread loaves whose original price tag is around 40 yuan.
"I often browse the mini-program and buy the leftover blind boxes. It saves money and prevents food waste. I enjoy it a lot," said Zhang Kai, a loyal consumer of Xishi Magic Bag.
Currently, Xishi Magic Bag is available in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, Changsha in Hunan province and Chengdu in Sichuan province.
People in cities where the mini-program is not available currently have requested to launch the service quickly.
"Leftover blind boxes, as a new business mode, are very promising. They have great advantages in terms of price, and can attract more consumers," said Hong Yong, an associate research fellow at the e-commerce research department of the Ministry of Commerce. "In addition, they conform to the concept of zero-waste and environmental protection. Therefore, they are gaining popularity among consumers."
This year marks the second anniversary of the passage of China's Anti-Food Waste Law.
In March, the State Administration for Market Regulation launched a three-month special drive to stop the wastage of food and beverages.
By the end of May, more than 2 million food and beverage enterprises were investigated, over 27,000 food and beverage waste problems were spotted, and penalties were imposed in 8,986 cases.
Though leftover blind boxes benefit people, they also come with food safety issues.
Some consumers have complained that they received poor quality from leftover blind boxes, and became sick after eating the food.
Zheng Lei, chief economist at cloud services provider Smydigtech, said that a supervisory mechanism should be established to ensure the food safety of leftover blind boxes.
"As food and beverages can be contaminated during production, transportation and storage, qualified suppliers should be selected to ensure the quality of products. Leftover blind box providers should standardize their operations to satisfy consumers," Hong said.