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Ningji beverage stores 'tea-ing' off in Hunan

By ZOU SHUO in Changsha | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-08 10:21
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Consumers line up for Ningji beverages at a shopping center in Beijing in April. [Photo/China Daily]

The first Ningji store, a lemon tea brand, was opened in Tianxin district of Changsha, Hunan province, in February 2021. Three years later, the company operates more than 2,600 stores nationwide, and aims to expand its stores to more than 4,000 by the end of this year.

The company sells hand-mashed lemon tea in different flavors for less than 20 yuan ($2.77) per serving.

It has received two rounds of several hundred million yuan in investment from Bytedance, Shunwei Capital and Tencent.

Wang Jie, co-founder of Ningji, said at the early stage of entrepreneurship she found there were more than 6,000 lemon tea shops in Guangdong province, showing great market potential for the refreshing beverage.

However, lemon tea in Guangdong tends to be quite bitter. To cater to the markets in other regions, Wang and her team made lemon tea products that taste lighter and are wince free.

Young people also find the tea to be healthier than bubble milk tea, which has a high caloric content, she said.

The company chose to open its first store in Changsha because there are lots of young people in the city who are willing to spend money on food and drinks, she said.

The first store, which was only three square meters, was opened in the Nanmenkou area of Changsha, with a monthly rent of just 2,000 yuan.

It was opened in winter, which is not a peak season for lemon tea, as they wanted to test which of their products would be popular during slacker times, she said.

They sold 300 yuan worth of lemon tea on the first day and in less than two months, daily sales revenue reached 15,000 yuan.

Meanwhile, the company only has eight direct sales stores, with most of its stores being franchised outlets.

Wang believes the relationship between brand and franchised stores should be similar to that of schools and students. The schools make policies and help supervise students to achieve better results, she said.

The company has built more than 3,000 mu (200 hectares) of land to grow lemon trees in Guangdong province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, supplying the key ingredients for its products.

Meanwhile, the average time for its franchised stores to turn a profit is about 12 months, as its stores are small and only need three to four employees with only pick-up orders.

Wang also spends lots of time hiring suitable talent for management positions, and she values candidates' ability to learn new things and cooperate with others.

She wants to hire more staff in different industries, so the company can further expand to other sectors, she said.

Huang Cui, 21, an undergraduate student at Changsha University of Science & Technology, said she believes lemon tea is a perfect match for Changsha's dining habits, whose food is spicy and heavy.

The tea is very refreshing, so it's perfect during the hot summers, she said.

Moreover, you can see salespeople energetically making drinks by hand, adding new excitement to the buying experience, she added.

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