Thousands of Hongkongers thronged one of the city’s largest annual bazaars on its opening day on Saturday, with bigger crowds compared with pandemic times although vendors said shoppers were keeping their purse strings tight.

The 57th edition of the Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo, organised by the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, opened at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and will run until January 8.

Hong Kong leader John Lee Ka-chiu was among the first customers, dropping by some booths and spending more than HK$3,400 on goods, including a handcrafted bag for his wife and dried oysters for his mother, as well as snacks such as pork buns, fish balls and walnuts.

Chief Executive John Lee enjoys a snack at the expo. Photo: Handout

“The ambience is great. I hope the joyful atmosphere can last until Christmas and the New Year,” the chief executive said, encouraging residents to spend in Hong Kong as part of a government drive to revive the local economy.

The 24-day expo includes more than 900 booths offering food, home appliances, and beauty and health products at hefty discounts, with the organisers reintroducing a “food plaza” – a zone selling hot items and snacks – and taste-testing, both of which were cancelled during the pandemic years.

“I come to the expo every year,” 50-year-old office clerk Patrick Or said. “There are more people this year and it is more bustling. The fact visitors can eat at the expo has brought more people in.”

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Or said he spent a few hundred dollars on soup packs. Although the items cost about the same as in shops, the convenience of having a variety of products in one place was a draw, he said.

“I will be coming back to the expo with my family later on and will probably buy some snacks,” he said.

A visitor surnamed Kwok was at the expo with his wife and said he aimed to buy abalone and would spend about HK$2,000 at the fair.

The couple also said they felt the return of taste-testing and food stalls had attracted more visitors and that they aimed to make the most of it.

“There seems to be a marked difference in the number of visitors between this year and the last, with many more people this time,” said Kwok, who is at his 60s.

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Johnny Chui, the associate business development manager at Nam Pei Hong Sum Yung Drugs, which focuses on dried seafood such as scallops, sea cucumbers, fish maws and abalone, said he expected a 5 to 10 per cent increase in business compared with last year.

“During the pandemic, people tended to stay at home and were less willing to go out,” Chui said. “Now, there is a possibility that people will make multiple visits, thanks to the waived entrance fees from 7pm onwards.”

He added that the food zone would also draw visitors, especially those looking for post-work plans.

Chui, however, said shoppers had remained prudent given the less-than-ideal performance in the larger economic environment.

He said his company had included more complimentary products and introduced larger discounts to entice customers.

The expo at Victoria Park runs until January 8. Photo: Edmond So

Sau Tao Group assistant sales and marketing manager Wing Cheng was also hoping for a 10 per cent increase in business compared with last year, adding that the good weather could help bring in more visitors.

The manager said taste-testing made a significant difference to sales as her company sells noodles. It not only helped customers to decide whether they liked certain products, but also served as an opportunity to communicate with them on other items, she said.

“No matter how hard we sell our products, it is still difficult for customers to know exactly what our products are like if they are not allowed to taste them,” she said.

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Scarlet Cheung, manager at King Bakery which runs a food stall selling egg tarts, fish balls, siu mai and nuts, said business was better than expected on the first day. Customers on average forked out around HK$100 per order, she said.

But she added it would be difficult to name a percentage increase given the last time they had a stall set up was in 2019.

Tickets cost HK$8 but entry is free for children under one-metre tall, residents aged 65 and above and those with disabilities. Entry after 7pm is also free.

The expo opens until 10pm between December 23 and 31, and closes at 9pm on other days except the last day, which finishes at 8pm.

The organiser expects 1 million visitors over the 24 days, with sales forecast to reach HK$1 billion.