Across China: Old names, new life -- innovation rejuvenates time-honored brands

Business 16

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TIANJIN, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Bearing the same name as the Haihe River, regarded as the "mother river" of Tianjin Municipality, Haihe milk features strongly in the luscious childhood memories of many generations in the northern Chinese city.

The time-honored dairy brand, like many traditional brands that used to struggle amid a rapidly-evolving domestic market, has now rejuvenated its business with advanced manufacturing technologies, diversified products and vogue promotions.

In 2019, Tianjin Haihe Dairy Co., Ltd. poured 600 million yuan (about 86.3 million U.S. dollars) into building a smart factory as a way to seek fresh market growth. The first bottle of milk rolled off the new plant's production line in June 2022.

"We can produce 260 tonnes of milk daily, offering more than 100 varieties of dairy products such as ultra-high temperature milk, yogurt and pasteurized milk," said Zou Yang, the chairman, adding the company aims for annual sales of more than one billion yuan this year, with products available in an estimated over 60,000 stores across China.

Time-honored brands, or "laozihao" in Chinese, is a coveted title given to brands with a long history. There are a total of 1,128 existing time-honored brands recognized by the Ministry of Commerce (MOC).

Tianjin alone is home to 66 such brands recognized by the MOC.

China has over the past few years stepped up efforts to breathe new life into long-established brands, preserving and improving traditional techniques, improving online and offline integration, and strengthening brand protection.

Haihe Dairy, for instance, has attracted a growing number of young die-hard fans on the strength of the booming livestreaming economy.

"Our products were once only sold in regions nearby, but now we have access to the whole national market by tapping into digital platforms. Online sales form a large part of our overall sales, with daily orders often exceeding 10,000," Zou said.

Data shows that nearly 350 time-honored brands have participated in livestreaming platforms. Livestreaming events of time-honored brands in 2022 topped 50,000, with a combined business volume of 3.5 billion yuan. The figure increased over five times compared with that of 2019.

New technologies have helped time-honored brands shake off their outdated images while sustaining classic style, noted Xing Jianhua, secretary general of the Tianjin Time-Honored Brands Association.

Mahua, or fried dough twist, is a traditional Tianjin snack. Among various brands, Guifaxiang 18th Street Mahua is the most famous and one of the oldest, and is named after the original location of its former 18th street shop.

"We made smaller, healthier mahua with less sugar and oil added, catering to the rising health-savvy trend," said Zhao Zheng, deputy general manager of the Tianjin Guifaxiang 18th Street Mahua Food Co., Ltd.

Bold innovation decisions and measures have also enabled many domestic brands to spread their influence overseas, opening up new horizons and possibilities for centuries-old names.

Tianjin Limin Condiment Co., Ltd., affiliated to the Tianjin Food Group, has long enjoyed widespread recognition for its ketchup, soy sauce and chili sauce. In 2018, it set up a ketchup factory in Ghana, west Africa.

"Our African factory achieved annual sales of more than 100 million yuan last year, and the figure is expected to double this year," said Cheng Peng, the company's chairman. "Overseas markets have become the company's new source of growth."

"As embodiments of traditional Chinese culture, time-honored brands play an important role in building the confidence of the nation. We will further tap the potential of these brands and help them keep pace with the new era," said Li Hong, deputy director of the Tianjin municipal commission of commerce. ■