China Food

How far are Chinese people from a bottle of their own coke?


There was a glorious history, and a new chapter is about to begin.


By: Zhang Zhan, editor: Shi can

Source: Hedgehog commune (id:ciweigongshe)

If you want to buy a bottle of coke, in American supermarkets, in addition to Coca Cola and Pepsi, you should also be able to buy Dr. Pepper, which some fans call “real American Coke”; In German supermarkets, you can also buy Afri cola, which has a history of 90 years.
Unfortunately, in supermarkets, convenience stores and mom and pop stores in most parts of China, you can probably only buy Coca Cola and Pepsi. Only in some regional markets or some special channels can you see national brands such as Laoshan cola, extraordinary cola and Tianfu Cola.
If we put the time back to the 1980s, China’s coke market will be a different scene:
Coca Cola returned to China after exiting the Chinese market in 1949. Its first bottling plant in New China was completed and put into operation in 1981; Laoshan cola, born in 1953, has set up 47 packaging plants in 21 provinces and cities in China and cities in Shandong Province; Tianfu Cola, Asian cola and extraordinary Cola all came out during this period.
Such a scene has long ceased to exist. Today, more than 90% of China’s carbonated beverage market share is shared by Coca Cola and Pepsi. As for the reason, some people describe it as “two pleasures drown seven armies” – in the 1990s, China’s seven major soda plants signed joint venture agreements with Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, with an attitude of learning management and technology from the west, and finally “lost their own things”.
Perhaps it was not reconciled to the current market situation. In 2002, after difficult negotiations with Pepsi, Asian soda was able to “redeem itself”; In 2004, Laoshan Cola reappeared in the market; In 2008, Tianfu Cola began to recover the ownership of formula and production technology from Pepsi; Since 2022, new actions in the coke market have continued.
In the 2022 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, Wahaha’s very Cola replaced Huiyuan Juice, a “regular” on the Spring Festival Gala, and appeared in the audience of the 2022 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, as if it wanted to declare its sovereignty on this traditional festival.
The screenshot of the very Cola in the audience of the Spring Festival Gala is from CCTV Spring Festival Gala
On July 22, Yuanqi forest announced in Beijing that it would soon launch Cola flavored soda sparkling water. According to reports, compared with the popular sugar free Cola on the market, this product uses natural sugar substitute erythritol to replace the controversial artificial sugar substitute aspartame. At the same time, it does not contain chemical preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, and completely removes chemical synthetic additives such as phosphoric acid.
Under the tide of the rise of domestic products, how far are Chinese people from a bottle of their own coke?
Between advance and retreat, China’s coke has turned upside down
Owning a coke that belongs to the Chinese people, this simple wish was put into practice as early as 69 years ago.
In 1953, organized by the Ministry of light industry, Shandong state-owned Qingdao soda factory bravely took the important task of “making Cola belonging to the working people of China”. Based on Laoshan mineral water, Qingdao soda factory matched it with traditional Chinese medicine ingredients such as black jujube, Angelica dahurica, Amomum villosum, galangal and clove to mix the taste of cola. Finally, Qingdao soda factory created Laoshan cola, the first Cola of Chinese people.
Laoshan cola | tuyuan Qingdao urban archives Forum
After 30 years of development, Laoshan Cola has become the local symbol of Qingdao with its distinctive packaging and unique taste of traditional Chinese medicine. At the same time, Laoshan Cola has also become a well-known brand throughout the country.
According to the report of Shanghai Wen Wei Po in 1981, Laoshan cola was deeply loved by consumers at that time, leading the country in sales, with an annual output of 2million dozen; Even after drinking Laoshan cola, some American businessmen couldn’t help but sigh that the cola prepared with traditional Chinese medicine has a unique taste, which can’t be matched by foreign drinks.
After 1985, Laoshan Cola established 47 sub packaging plants with an annual production capacity of 80million tons. Its share of the local market in Qingdao reached 80%, and the national market share once reached 20%.
At that time, in the territory of China’s soda, although I dare not say that “there is a coke in a city”, it is true that “there is a soda in a city” – in addition to Laoshan Cola in Shandong and zhengguanghe in Shanghai in East China, dabaili in Harbin and Bawang temple in Shenyang in Northeast China, Shanhaiguan in Tianjin and the Arctic Ocean in Beijing in North China, Bingfeng in Xi’an and Haibi in Luoyang in Central China, In the southwest, there are Emei snow in Chengdu, Tianfu Cola in Chongqing, and Asian Shashi in South China and Guangzhou.
The turning point of the story happened in 1994, a year destined to be written in the history of carbonated drinks in China.
That year, in the face of the impact of Coca Cola and Pepsi, in order to make progress by retreating, under the arrangement of China Light Industry Association, China’s seven major soda factories signed joint venture agreements with the two major manufacturers: Bawangsi soda, Shanhaiguan soda and Wuhan No. 2 factory soda joint venture with Coca Cola, Laoshan cola, Asia Shashi cola, Tianfu Cola and Arctic Ocean joint venture with Pepsi.
Xinghuiming, Secretary of the Party committee of Beijing first light chemical industry group, a company affiliated to the Arctic Ocean, once said that at that time, everyone felt that “the moon of foreign countries was rounder than that of China”, so they should learn management and technology from the West. However, what everyone didn’t expect was that in the end, “they lost their own things”.
After the joint venture, by virtue of its high proportion of shares or by continuously increasing its share capital, “liangle” strives to improve its control over the joint venture brand, intervene in or even lead the management and operation of the joint venture brand, and occupy the living space of domestic soda brands——
  • After being acquired by Coca Cola, Laoshan cola was soon marginalized, the channel was squeezed, and then forced to stop production;
  • After the joint venture with Pepsi, Tianfu Cola was hidden in the snow, and the flow production in 1994 was only 2% of the original;
  • Similar to Tianfu Cola, after the joint venture between Asian cola and Pepsi, it can’t escape the fate of being hidden.
Apart from these joint venture factories, other brands are not so lucky:
  • Zhengguanghe accepted the OEM of Coca Cola, so that his martial arts skills were abolished, and his happy Cola could not be resumed production;
  • Fenhuang cola, which came out in 1998 and was popular for a while, became a flash in the pan due to many problems such as tight channels and funds, and almost stopped production in 2001;
  • Wahaha’s extraordinary Cola also declined after a period of prosperity for unknown reasons.
History has proved that the so-called “retreat as advance” strategy has become a pure retreat. Prior to this, “liangle” had long launched an “attack” at the market level.
In 1983, Beijing Coca Cola Co., Ltd. planned the first store promotion in China’s contemporary market – in major stores, consumers can get a pair of chopsticks or a balloon if they buy a bottle of coke;
In 1986, in order to improve its market popularity, Coca Cola bought the opportunity to broadcast advertisements on CCTV with 200000 yuan, which was almost the total profit of Coca Cola in China in the first year.
Chinese farmers are drinking Coca Cola | tuyuan “supermarket legend”
Between one advance and one retreat, the pattern of coke in China has turned upside down.
Rush in,
Who can set off the “coke situation” again?
From a purely commercial perspective, coke is really not a good category – “liangle” has strong strength, narrow market space, and the breakthrough is close to fishing for the moon in water.
Even so, many Cola brands are determined to make a comeback, such as Tianfu Cola.
On January 6, 2016, after recovering the trademark through judicial channels, Tianfu Cola held a brand resurrection ceremony in Chongqing. This is a ceremony full of sadness:
On both sides of the venue are 20 meter long spray-painted boards, whose background color is Holocaust monument gray. More than 20 black-and-white photos recording the past glory and decline of Tianfu Cola are printed on them. The song “my Chinese heart” is also playing in the venue.
Tianfu Cola comeback ceremony site | tuyuan “foodie”
Unlike the newly launched products or brands, the old brand Cola embodies a profound sense of history and nationality. Few people will question the significance of comeback from the perspective of commercial value. People care more about the spiritual atmosphere represented by comeback – firmly continuing the historical context, not afraid of difficulties in the face of challenges, and believing in the power of national brands.
Or from the perspective of consumers, people are looking forward to such a scene: when a consumer stands in front of the freezer of a convenience store and wants to choose a bottle of cola flavored drinks, there are various choices on the shelf. If he wants to drink foreign brands, he can drink foreign brands, and if he wants to drink domestic brands, he can drink domestic brands.
But looking at the brand from the product itself is not in line with the commercial essence, and it is easy to fall into the “emotional trap”. An excellent positive case is that Sanya, a century old carbonated beverage brand under Asahi, Japan, achieved an annual sales growth of more than 100% in 2020; In addition to the brand advantages accumulated over a century, Sanya cola can do without adding any preservatives in its products, so why do Chinese local consumers have no similar Cola choice?
In this way, our desire for local coke not only contains a certain national feelings, but also contains our expectations for innovative products – there are nearly 300 kinds of coke in the world, so can Chinese local coke solve the new problems encountered by consumers?
As we all know, although “fat house happy water” cola tastes good, even sugar free Cola is hardly a healthy drink:
On the one hand, the phosphoric acid added in coke is harmful to human body – some studies have shown that excessive intake of phosphate is harmful to human bones, cardio cerebral vessels. 700mg phosphate per day will affect bone health, and 1.8g phosphate per day will lead to dental caries. Phosphate additives commonly used in beverages are easier to be absorbed by human body than those contained in food itself;
On the other hand, the chemical preservatives commonly used in traditional cola, such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, will also cause harm to human body, “Persuading” a large group of ingredient parties.
Three years ago, through communication with users, Yuanqi forest found that when sugar free beverages gradually became the mainstream of China’s beverage market, consumers still had various complaints about sugar free cola.
Therefore, in order to solve these user pain points, some young product managers of Yuanqi forest tried to set up a project within the company and wanted to develop a new coke. This project team was named “yyds”, which is the Internet term “eternal God”.
The members of the yyds project team did a lot of research and preparation in the early stage of the project. They collected nearly 40 kinds of Cola from all over the world, tasted them one by one, analyzed the taste differences, and formulated more than 1000 blending schemes. They drank 5-8 liters of blending solution every day, and finally found an ingredient solution that could simulate the feeling of phosphoric acid without damaging bones.
In terms of preservatives, deer horn, the co-founder of Yuanqi forest, said that in October last year, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and other chemical preservatives were no longer added to the bubble aquatic products of Yuanqi forest, thanks to the world’s leading sterile carbonic acid production line introduced by Yuanqi forest.
In addition, Yuanqi forest’s Cola flavored water also tries to use more natural ingredients to improve taste and health. For example, the natural substitute erythritol extracted from corn and other crops replaces the artificial substitute aspartame commonly used in traditional cola, and natural citric acid replaces the currently widely used sodium citrate. Yuanqi forest also selected the more expensive Paraguay tea extract to replace the artificial caffeine of traditional cola.
Finally, Yuanqi forest developed a new formula of “Yuanqi Cola”. It is reported that the product will be sold online and enter some offline channels as soon as August, and there is no plan to shop on a large scale in the short term.
“Vitality Cola” formula | figure source interviewees
Bamboo sticks and sandals are lighter than horses. Who is afraid?
In fact, when the “vitality Cola” project was first proposed, the internal opposition was very loud, even almost one-sided. “At that time, many colleagues worried that once we tried to make Cola flavored drinks, it would irritate Cola manufacturers. Because our size is equivalent to a little finger compared with international giants, and it is easy to be slapped to death.” Antlers indicate.
Indeed, Coca Cola and Pepsi have occupied the vast majority of offline channels in China; And in consumer perception, when it comes to coke, I’m afraid people can only think of these two brands. It is almost impossible to make a coke under the nose of “liangle”.
But does this mean that making a new coke is meaningless?
Antlers said: “Tang Binsen, the founder of Yuanqi forest, became the strongest supporter of this project. At that time, he told us young people that since users have demand and there are so many Cola brands all over the world, why can’t Yuanqi forest try? In the history of cola categories all over the world, what about losers adding a new Yuanqi forest? I still remember his original words -” since users have demand, it’s better to walk gracefully instead of being timid. ” ’。”
This product attitude implies the “conservative” sales expectation of Yuanqi forest for this product. Antler explained that the quality of this product is ultimately up to young users and the market to decide. In the short term, success or failure is not considered. “Even if it doesn’t work, it’s also valuable for us to help users eliminate a wrong answer.”
Throughout the world, there are not many Cola products that can compete with the “two pleasures” at home, but they have one thing in common, that is, they have been rooted locally for a long time and are deeply bound with local culture.
Dr. Pepper was born in 1885, one year older than Coca Cola. The reason why some people say that “only Dr. Pepper can represent the real American Coke” is not only because of its American flavor, but also from the perspective of cultural integration.
As a native brand in Texas, Dr. Pepper is an American national beverage with “root and seedling red” – just like the tough and affectionate Texas cowboy, Dr. Pepper conveys an incomparable American romance; It exudes wild and unrestrained rock characteristics, and was once described as “the source of inspiration” by rock artists.
According to the data released by American media beverage digest, in 2015, Dr. Pepper’s market share in the United States was 17.3%; In some parts of Texas, the sales volume of Dr. Pepper even exceeded that of Coca Cola.
Dr. Pepper advertisement | tuyuan Dr. Pepper official website
Afri cola, founded in 1931, is one of the largest beverage brands in Germany. In terms of raw materials, Afri Cola uses the water source of the Alps; Outwardly, since 1962, the bottles it uses have been considered the coolest in the soft drink industry.
German Afri cola | screenshot from tmall
In addition to these old brand beverage brands, there is a special existence – Thai EST cola.
The owner of EST brand is Thailand sermsuk company, which has always been the manufacturer and distributor of Pepsi Cola. However, on April 1st, 2012, sermsuk cancelled the production and sales agreement with Pepsi Cola. Pepsi Cola built its own factory, while sermsuk created its own EST Cola brand to seize the Thai cola market.
With its deep production capacity, channel capacity and logistics capacity, the brand has occupied 12% of the carbonated beverage market share in the Thai market in less than two years. But obviously, the success of EST Cola is difficult to replicate.
These so-called “success stories” actually prove the difficulty of new products to break out of the encirclement. But this may not be important. As Tang Binsen said, why not “walk naturally”?
Six years ago, a sentence was printed on the venue of the Tianfu Cola comeback ceremony: “there was a glorious history, and a new chapter is about to begin.” We want to say that the “new chapter” does not necessarily need brilliance, and the action of “launching” itself is full of significance.
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