Ecommerce

Alibaba, JD.com and WeChat give age-old Shanghai ice pop brand a new lease of life

Sales of Bright Food’s ice pops and ice cream grow six fold at Alibaba’s Hema after the ice cream maker disclosed tie-ups with e-commerce majors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 10:35pm

China’s booming e-commerce has given Bright ice pop, an age-old Shanghai ice cream brand a new lease of life in the sweltering summer.

While the nostalgic comeback of the ice pops, created and made by Shanghai Yimin No 1 Food since the 1950s, has played out well on Chinese social media, the food manufacturer’s expansion into e-commerce and new retail channels have opened up new distribution and sales opportunities.

Compared with fancier ice pops and ice cream by rivals Yili Group, Mengniu and Wall’s, Bright’s ice pops are basic, and priced no more than 1 yuan (US 15 cents) to 1.5 yuan a piece. Other fancier options cost more than 3.5 yuan each, which makes them a bigger incentive for convenience stores to carry these products.

But the recent surge in demand for Bright ice pops by Shanghai millennials who grew up with the brand – from salty to red bean flavoured and ice cream bricks – has created a dilemma for Yimin, which acknowledged the shortage of supply at convenience stores.

Bright ice products are more readily available in packs of six to 12 pieces at supermarkets, hypermarkets and e-commerce sites. Single pieces are only available sporadically at certain convenience stores and family-run corner shops.

Contrary to conventional consumption behaviour, shoppers have called on Yimin on WeChat, China’s biggest social media app, to raise prices of its cheap, classic ice pops so that convenience stores will stock the products, and to rethink its distribution policy, a discussion that has gone viral in Shanghai.

In response, Yimin stressed that Bright ice pops are available at JD.com, Alibaba Group Holding’s Hema and taobao.com, where these products are delivered with no-fuss to consumers in the scorching heat. Sales of classic Bright ice products increased six fold at Hema in Shanghai in the days following the open letter on WeChat, compared with the average sales in early July, said Hema over the weekend.

It’s very smart for Bright to play the nostalgia card, riding on the social media hit to resonate with consumers
Jason Yu, Kantar Worldpanel

Hema, billed as the beach head of Alibaba’s new retail strategy, runs both brick-and-mortar and online shops.

“The e-commerce make the purchasing convenient when it is difficult to find them on streets,” said Shao Yuhua, a white-collar shopper in her late 30s who bought Bright ice pops from JD.com.

“It’s very smart for Bright to play the nostalgia card, riding on the social media hit to resonate with consumers,” said Jason Yu, general manager of market research firm Kantar Worldpanel in Greater China. “But it remains to be seen if that frenzy can sustain.”

When it comes to ice cream products, Yu said easy accessibility counted more than available flavours as consumers want instant gratification.

Even a strong heritage brand like Bright had to do more to build up the distribution channels to be constantly available to shoppers whenever and wherever they want to buy, he said.

Consumers agree.

“I am really not that price sensitive amid such a ‘consumption upgrading’ era,” said Chen Yiqi, a Shanghai consumer in her 30s.

“For me, I would rather they further raise prices so I can buy one more easily at convenience shops on my way home.”

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

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