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Ice cream sales soar as weather heats up

By Li Menghan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-12 09:37
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A scorching heat wave gripping China has triggered a surge in ice cream consumption, with budget-friendly options taking center stage.

The early arrival of summer has brought sweltering temperatures, with some provincial-level regions such as Shandong, Hebei and Xinjiang seeing highs of 40 C this week.

"Ice cream sales have definitely spiked with the rising mercury," said a salesperson surnamed Zhang, who works at a Beijing ice cream vendor that it is selling around 2,000 ice creams a day.

He attributed the shop's success to a "high volume, low margin" strategy.

"We don't have minimum purchase requirements," he said. "Even single units are sold at our wholesale price."

It is an approach that has found favor among a price-conscious clientele. Zhang said that while the elderly often opt for ice creams costing around 3 yuan (41 US cents), younger people prioritize taste and quality, but only to a certain extent, with ice creams costing more than 20 yuan rarely being bought.

Ice creams costing as much as 50 yuan were more common in the past, leading to the coining of the term "ice cream assassin" in 2022, referring to ice creams with plain packaging and whopping prices.

The sales of many expensive brands have declined, with ice creams from high-end brand Chicecream no longer stocked in most offline stores. Deliveries of online purchases are limited to parts of 13 provincial-level regions, including Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin and the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, according to a livestream sales session by the brand.

Its sales revenue in 2021 was more than 1 billion yuan, but its founder Lin Sheng is now selling ice creams and agricultural produce like sweet potatoes on livestreaming channels to "settle employee wages".

"It is mainly my responsibility and problem to make the capital flow of the company very tight, leading to the delays in disbursing salaries, compensation and reimbursements to a significant number of employees," Lin said during a livestream session on Taobao late last month.

Li Hang, a Beijing doctoral student, said she succumbed to the allure of trendy, expensive options, sometimes costing more than 50 yuan, during her undergraduate and master's studies. "Initially, it was curiosity," she said. "But later, I felt embarrassed to return them after realizing the price."

She said she now prioritizes affordability and always checks prices beforehand.

With the country facing economic headwinds, Zhou Kang, an assistant professor from the School of Economics at Zhejiang University, attributes the declining fortunes of ice cream assassins to growing consumer awareness.

"The craze for exorbitantly priced ice creams has subsided over the past two years," he said. "Consumers are savvier now and less willing to pay inflated prices."

Data from online retailer shows that in the first four months of last year, ice creams priced under 10 yuan accounted for 60 percent of sales revenue and 70 percent of sales volume.

To stay competitive, Zhou advises ice cream brands to "focus on quality, prioritize food safety, offer fair pricing and diversify product lines".

He also anticipates a rise in health-conscious ice cream options. "The future likely lies in functional ingredients like plant-based, high-protein and natural components that cater to consumers' growing focus on wellbeing," he said.

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