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Of sweet tooth, nostalgia, and sales tricks

By Xu Junqian | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-09 07:31
Ice cream. [Photo/VCG]

What might convince a weight-conscious female professional to ditch her self-imposed diet restrictions and indulge in a sinfully sweet, comfortingly creamy ice cream? Well, I can't speak for others, but for me, the temptation to pay tribute to a time-honored Shanghai brand did the trick.

What's more, the resurrection of Shanghai Yimin No 1 Food Factory, one of China's oldest ice cream makers, was creative: the brand chose a new durian flavored sundae to announce its comeback.

That meant, the new ice cream flavor would also save me the embarrassment of savoring the smelly fruit in public.

One thing led to another. That is, the durian sundae led me to Yimin's vanilla ice cream. Gosh, did I fall prey to a new marketing trick of an old brand?

Okay, confession time: I don't care. When the creamy treats are so delicious, and offer nostalgia as a bonus, why would I?

Yimin's vanilla ice cream has some history to it, you see. Now the brick-shaped dessert sells at 8 yuan ($1.2) apiece. Back in its heyday in the 1950s, its price was 0.25 yuan.

Its popularity continued through the 1980s and 1990s, when it defined the taste of summer for the then younger generation. Its size and shape resembled a soap bar. And consumers would dip it in soda water, mix it with cookies and fruits, or even allow it to melt so they could use the fluid as a dressing on fruit salad.

Those were the days when air conditioners and refrigerators were still few and far between at homes. At its peak, Yimin's vanilla ice cream commanded nearly 80 percent of market share.

Then, the ubiquitous imported ice cream brands mauled the 95-year-old firm's offerings.

Now, Yimin is on a comeback trail. It has made two main changes to its products. Its ice cream now boasts better quality milk powder and cuter packaging featuring a polar bear.

They were enough to pique my interest. I decided to revisit my childhood summer memories. To hell with the calorie concerns that have been keeping me on a tight leash all this year.

As it transpires, I'm not the only one who succumbed to the temptation. I shared messages and images of my indulgence with peers via social media. The content tempted them in turn, and offered a lot of consolation to me.

When you distribute guilt in the form of sugar and fat, the inner burden lifts, you'd feel a lot less weighty, a lot better and lighter, you see.

Yimin is now part of the Bright Dairy conglomerate. It is one of the first 50 laozihao, or time-honored brands, to be revitalized in Shanghai. Its return was marked by new product launches, and creative sales and marketing strategies.

In 2017, Yimin's 40 or so products netted 200 million yuan in sales, up 10 percent from 2016. But profit margin remained low. It has been losing market share rapidly, especially in other cities where consumers are less emotionally attached to an old Shanghai brand.

"The nostalgia is both a treasure and a burden. We can't always count on that to get people to stick to our products. But I think we can take advantage of it to lure consumers back," said Li Weitao, assistant director of Shanghai-based Yimin.

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