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Nutri-Brex prices surge in China following appearance on soap opera ‘Ode to Joy’

A shrewd product placement on a popular soap opera in China has propelled a Western breakfast cereal to frenzied popularity in the country, sending prices up almost ten times in the gray market.

Weet-Bix, which is known as Nutri-Brex in China and U.K., is a cereal in the form of a biscuit. The cereal, which is highly popular in Australia and New Zealand, has been on the shelves in China for eight years.

It was only with its appearance on the popular Chinese soap opera "Ode to Joy" earlier this year, however, that millions more discovered the brand, spurring demand that emptied local supermarket shelves.

"We were doing okay then but then along came this opportunity and we just saw this huge spike in sales," Mark Roper, international business manager at Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing, which produces Weet-Bix, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday.

Chinese shopping agent Na Wang selects Sanitarium's Weet-Bix cereal biscuit, during a shopping trip for Chinese customers at an Australian supermarket in Sydney on August 2, 2016.
Jason Reed | Reuters
Chinese shopping agent Na Wang selects Sanitarium's Weet-Bix cereal biscuit, during a shopping trip for Chinese customers at an Australian supermarket in Sydney on August 2, 2016.

The company consists of two sister food firms based in Australia and New Zealand that are both owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Weet-Bix is sold around $3.50 for a 1.2kg box in Australia and about double the price in China. A shortage, however, has sent prices to around $40 on Chinese shopping sites.

On the Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo, users share photos and Weet-Bix recipes.

Underscoring the popularity of the breakfast cereal are changing dietary habits due a growing middle class.

Demand for western-style meals in China is fast rising due to busy urban lifestyles spurring ready-to-eat morning fixes. Traditional Chinese breakfasts vary by region but they usually require more time to prepare.

According to a Euromonitor report released in October last year, the breakfast cereals category was expected to see double-digit value growth in 2015.

Roper said Sanitarium will continue to push its breakfast and beverage products with the international focus on the U.K., China and the rest of Asia.

Due to concerns about food safety in China, products from Australia and New Zealand already have a strong following in China with milk and supplements popular among Chinese tourists.

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