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White Rabbit candy maker to open ecological playground in Shanghai Disney’s backyard

The state-owned company, famous for its iconic White Rabbit sweets, plans to open its ecological project featuring hotels, entertainment and agriculture, next summer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 11:01pm

It’s a household name in China, famous for a vast range of edible products from ice cream and biscuits to its iconic White Rabbit sweets.

But now Shanghai-based Bright Food Group, the mainland’s second-largest food conglomerate, is branching out into unfamiliar, and perhaps unexpected, territory: ecotourism.

The food giant has revealed ambitious plans to open a large eco-friendly tourist attraction on Chongming Island, featuring agricultural plantations, hotels and entertainment offerings.

It is part of a broader government drive to transform the sleepy island in northern Shanghai into a world-class ecological resort.

Bright Food hopes the project, scheduled to open in August 2019, will give it a new growth engine as it aims to become a leading global brand.

“Building ecological projects in line with the central government’s directions is now part of Bright Food’s key strategy,” Pan Jianjun, a senior executive with the Shanghai government-owned firm, told the Post. “Hi-tech, high-quality agricultural products and first-class tourism services will characterise the ecological project in Chongming. Visitors from all over the country will be welcome.”

He said plans for the 30-square kilometre project include planting sunflower and lavender, building hotels, retail and entertainment facilities, and developing water sports.

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The government of Shanghai, mainland China’s commercial capital, is envisioning transforming the 1,400 square kilometre island into an ecological park by 2040.

Chongming is Shanghai’s last virgin territory and is viewed as an important conservation area.

As such the island, at the mouth of the Yangtze River, will only accommodate environmentally friendly industries in order to protect the natural resources and maintain the 102 square kilometre Dongtan Wetland Park – a major stopover for migratory birds flying south for the winter.

“It appears to be a big, ambitious project for Bright Food because it is related to the city’s grand plan to develop Chongming Island,” said Cao Hua, a partner at Unity Asset Management. “State-owned companies will be among the beneficiaries of governments’ mega development projects as they have eased access to key resources such as land and financing.”

Pan would not disclose the size of Bright Food’s investment for the ecological project.

He said the company will take a leading role in making preparations for the China Flower Expo, the mainland’s biggest national-level floral event, due to be hosted on Chongming Island in 2021.

Since 2011, Bright Food has completed about 10 acquisitions of foreign food companies including processed food, wine, sugar and dairy businesses.

Its overseas assets now include Manassen, an Australian food company that makes biscuits, and the British cereal maker, Weetabix.

The company’s White Rabbit sweets rose to global prominence in 1972 when then-premier Zhou Enlai presented them to US President Richard Nixon. It is also famed for the fact former Chinese president Jiang Zemin worked briefly at one of its ice-cream subsidiaries in the 1950s.

The rising affluence of mainland consumers has ushered in surging demand for healthy and premium imported food products such as chocolate, fruits and cereal products over the past decade.

Bright Food sees itself in the growing role of an international platform for two-way shipments, bringing in quality food from abroad while promoting Chinese products worldwide.

Pan said the company will continue to seek overseas acquisition targets to buoy further growth.

Bright Food reported net profits of 3.3 billion yuan (US$482.5 million) in 2017, up by a quarter from a year earlier.

Revenue grew 3.4 per cent to 161.2 billion yuan.