Thanks to U.S. company, fortune cookies have a future in China

November 08, 1992|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Thanks to the Brooklyn-based Wonton Foo Co., China will soon have fortune cookies.

Until now the cookies, which cap off just about every meal served in most of America's 30,000 Chinese restaurants, have been unknown and gone untasted in China. Like hot dogs, pizza and more particularly, chop suey, they are essentially American concoctions.

But Wonton Foods, which produces a million fortune cookies a day in New York, has decided that the time is propitious to go east with the fortune cookie. "We just signed a joint venture agreement with the Guangzhou Municipal Foodstuffs Machinery Corp. to build and operate a fortune cookie plant," said Donald H. Lau, the company's vice president. He said he expected production to begin in about eight months.

He sounded as pleased as a man, who, having cracked open a cookie, found a message saying, "Greater success is in the days ahead," this being just the kind of thing you want to read when you are establishing a beachhead in a market of more than a billion cookie-eating people.

Mr. Lau said he did not believe that the fortunes needed to be passed by government or party censors. "Those days are over," he said. Still, he noted, in terms of style, the Chinese fortunes are more elliptical than the American variety, which essentially foretell good health, growing wisdom, increasing riches, much love and ever greater sexiness in a straight-forward manner.

He offered a few of the Chinese fortunes picked at random: "True gold fears no fire," "Heaven never seals all exits," "The only way to catch a tiger cub is to go into the tiger's den" and "Constant grinding can turn an iron rod into a needle."

Asked whether turning rods into needles was good or bad, he replied, "I don't know."

Even before its entry into China, Wonton Foods had been moving boldly to reshape and dominate domestic fortune cookie production. Traditionally, the industry had a few large bakeries and several dozen workshops where family members made cookies largely by hand.

"We have put all our fortunes on floppy disks," said Mr. Lau as he showed off an automated assembly line. "We were the first to offer chocolate fortune cookies on the East Coast and to sell cookies in retail outlets. We also do special jobs, customized messages for birthdays . . . and sales promotions. We did the Democratic Convention and now are doing a 2-million-cookie job to promote a new Chinese ginger liqueur."

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