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Anyone for a White Rabbit? China's massive snacks industry goes ballistic

By Zhang Zhouxiang | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-06 14:40
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Zhang Junyao, a one-year-old girl, enjoys biscuits on her baby cart.[Photo by Wang Jingjing/For China Daily]

The 1980s: Time for a snack

According to the theory of human needs propounded by eminent US psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s - a list of 'must haves' depicted in a pyramid with the most basic needs like safety at the bottom, ranging to self-actualization at the top - food is a dominant, core imperative. A look at history also shows that when a nation steps out of poverty, the first thing people do is to move their palates and stomachs onto the finer stuff.

Back in the 1980s, Chinese people, who were just getting a taste for the good life, were very creative in sniffing out the snacks they liked, which in turn created enormous business opportunities.

The above-mentioned ABC Mickey Mouse Sweets, which had already changed its name to White Rabbit Creamy Candy, seized the opportunity and forged its prime place in the pantheon of the national snacks industry.

A previous luxury, it repositioned itself successfully, leaving consumers nationwide with the idea "You can now enjoy luxury, too", winning it the warm affection with consumers it enjoys to this day.

In the hall of fame for drinks, the most successful brand has to be Jianlibao. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games China's women volleyball team scored gold, overnight inspiring and fueling both sports mania and national pride.

Jianlibao capitalized on that, popularizing the concept of "sport drinks" with China's consumers, with such success that at one point it had an extraordinary market share as high as 70 percent of the country's soda drinks sector.

For some born in the 1980s, Jianlibao was pretty much the only soft drink they would think of drinking during the summer.

There are a raft of other examples from the period. Fudges in orange, apple, pineapple and other flavors gained popularity, too, while canned fruits, mostly brewed in sweet drinkable water, became the preferred gift for those visiting patients in hospitals.

Nowadays nostalgic Chinese, whose childhood was in the 1980s, are very fond of recapturing the sweet moments of the time. Just do an online search on "snacks in the 1980s" and you get 930,000 results on search engine On micro blog Weibo Sina - China's equivalent to Twitter - there is the longstanding topic #Snacks in the 1980s#, which has recorded more than 100 million hits.

Even today, people surfing e-commerce platforms can easily buy snacks with packages and flavors exactly the same as those of the 1980s. "I buy this only to wake up the taste inside my heart," is a typical comment about one of the products.

Yet the snacks industry in this period was not without its problems. A lack of proper laws and regulation saw a fairly high percentage of snacks produced in illegal underground workshops. Some of the backshop boys even produced pirate products carrying fake trademarks of famous brands, or registered trademarks designed to be easily confused with the leading ones.

For example, when White Rabbit Creamy Candy really took off, some businesses registered Grey Rabbit or Small White Rabbit for their rival milk candy products. White Rabbit bared its teeth in response, registering some similar trademarks first to avoid them being registered by others, among them Black Rabbit candy. That trademark has been held by White Rabbit ever since, just to head off imitators.

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