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Time-honored brands are innovating to keep pace with changing times

By Sun Chi | | Updated: 2021-04-15 17:58
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Consumers queue up at a Goubuli restaurant in Tianjin. [Photo by Hu Lingyun/For China Daily]

Time-honored brands are old landmarks in people's memory, their names can be seen in old pictures, their flavors are so well-known no matter how far you travel back home. It is always one kind of comfort like a home away from home. But can the comfort experiences be rendered as before when time passes, consumption changes and demands shift?

Goubuli, the iconic Tianjin-based Chinese bun maker, closed its last franchised restaurant in Beijing in Qianmen, one of Beijing's most popular shopping streets, in late March 2021, and the news surged to become one of the hottest searches on the internet.

Earlier in September 2020, it terminated its collaboration with its franchised restaurant in Wangfujing after a video complaining about the establishment's subpar products and services went viral on Chinese social media. Since then, the famous brand dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) has continued to close its outlets.

Quanjude, an iconic Beijing roast duck restaurant chain which opened in 1864, is expected to see attributable net profit loss of 48 million yuan ($7.34 million) in the first quarter of 2021, the Beijing Business Today reported, citing the restaurant chain's Q1 earnings preannouncement, noting its attributable net profit continued to drop from 2017 to 2019.

Tongrentang, a time-honored traditional Chinese medicine provider, also experienced a fall in growth rate of operation revenue from 2015 to 2019, as per the China Investment Network.

Having been aware of keeping balance between preserving favored traditions and seeking new ways to retaining market, the time-honored brands are adventuring to connect to the changing consumption population.

Tongrentang has extended its market modes such as offering free treatment at companies, schools and communities, displaying its medicines on e-commerce platforms with scenarized applications, and holds activities where do-it-yourself pills can be made, according to the Securities Daily.

Similarly, Quanjude and Goubuli are also working to turn the tide. Quanjude has added take-out services, tried to boost its business in communities and established windows that sell staple food, according to the Beijing Business Today. The restaurant chain also reportedly reduced its dish prices by 10 to 15 percent and cancelled service charge at its outlets. In addition, it opened the first immersion shadow canteen in Qianmen of Beijing recently, the first of its kind among time-honored brands in China, the Shanghai Securities News said on Tuesday.

As per Beijing Business Today, Goubuli will focus on food industry and e-commerce, and will maintain sound operation in existing outlets. The brand also said via its WeChat account on March 24 that they have been included by Xiamen Airlines as a base for catering raw materials.

Finding new development approaches are the common tasks for time-honored brands. And many are doing a good job. Xinghualou, a catering chain founded in 1851, sold 130,000 cases of green rice cake in a few minutes via livestreaming last year, and the number this year was 260,000, attracting buyers from across the country, People's Daily reported.

Huguosi Snacks, a time-honored Beijing Muslim snack shop, still does a roaring trade today. Sales volume of its canned Douzhir, or fermented mung bean milk, has increased by 100 times a few months after its floating, as per the Beijing Evening News.

As high as 84 percent of 1,128 surveyed Chinese time-honored brands were still making money, as reported Wednesday, citing information from the Ministry of Commerce. According to the survey, half of them recorded a profit more than 6 percent, and many of them saw increasing competitiveness.

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