A 'cute' bear sells a treat for summer

Bright Food sees the revival of popsicle business with its newly launched cute bear image. 
A 'cute' bear sells a treat for summer

One of the ice creams captivating consumer interest as summer approaches is Bright Food’s Little White Bear, an 8-yuan (US$1.25) ice cream bar that comes in cheese, strawberry yoghurt and vanilla flavors.

Despite a price nearly triple that of other Bright Food ice creams and popsicles, Little White Bears are designed to attract young consumers, according to Li Weitao, assistant general manager of the Shanghai Yimin No.1 Food Factory that produces the bars.

“By raising the price of ice cream, we have a better chance of gaining a foot-hold in convenience stores and online shopping channels,” he said.

Due to relatively high operating costs, convenience stores are more motivated to sell snacks and beverages with relatively high gross margins, leaving little space for desserts or ice creams costing less than 5 yuan.

Jessie Xie, a Shanghai resident in her late 20s, said she wasn’t even aware that Little White Bear is actually a local brand.

“Bright Food popsicles have always had the most down-to-earth packaging and are usually hard to find in convenience stores,” she said. “Little White Bears come in cute packaging, which is certainly a surprise.”

Bears are generally regarded as “cute,” but there are limits to associating them with ice cream.

According to a report out of Canada last week, a private zoo in the province of Alberta got into hot water by posting images of a park employee taking a bear cub to a drive-thru window of a Dairy Queen outlet for some hand-fed ice cream. The images went viral, and the zoo was charged with failing to notify Fish and Wildlife officials that the bear was being taken outside zoo confines.

Bright Food isn’t going to such extremes, but it is betting that the image of a cute bear will appeal to younger consumers, even beyond their taste for ice cream.

The cartoon image of Little White Bear has found its way into the merchandise realm as stuffed toys and smartphone pouches. The company said it hopes to build an income stream from such derivative products, similar to the way Disney parlayed its cartoon figures.

A 'cute' bear sells a treat for summer

The cartoon image of Little White Bear has found its way into the merchandising realm in a variety of products.

A 'cute' bear sells a treat for summer

Bright Food’s Little White Bear sells at a price of 8 yuan, nearly triple that of other Bright Food ice creams.

Little White Bear bars are made from imported dairy ingredients, and the company isn’t afraid to experiment with innovative flavors.

Some analysts have suggested that Bright Food might join hands with coffee shops to offer cold drinks or desserts that play on the image of Little White Bear.

Beyond its new product, Bright Food is adding natural ingredients such as lotus seeds, oatmeal and the herb Job’s tears to its existing popsicle range.

Over the years, Bright Food’s time-honored products have included green bean and red bean popsicles, costing 1.5 yuan each. Its signature product, the ice brick, is basically a stick-less block of frozen, sugary cream that hasn’t changed its packaging design for the past decade.

Nostalgia for old familiar favorites may work a treat with older consumers, but the young seem to prefer what is new, interesting and unusual when it comes to frozen desserts.

Bright Food has started a partnership with JD.com’s online grocery delivery arm and Alibaba’s fresh food market Hema to market its new ice cream bars. It’s also negotiating distribution deals with some local convenience chain stores. 

Highly competetive ice cream market

The ice cream market is highly competitive, with rivals also pursuing strategies of diversification to boost sales.

Unilever’s Magnum ice cream brand has created “pop-up stores” in a number of domestic cities in the past few years, offering dozens of toppings not avail-able in packaged ice cream bars sold in supermarkets.

For brands like Magnum that do not have their own retail outlets, pop-up stores that conduct business for a short span of weeks offer a new experience for shoppers and give companies an current snapshot of consumer tastes.

Ice cream makers are chasing the trend of snacking away from home. In China’s first- and second-tier cities, consumers spend an average per capita US$160 on snacks and non-alcoholic drinks bought outside the home every year, according to a Kantar Wordpanel report last month.

One-third of those purchases take place in restaurants or cafe, with 21 percent in convenience stores.

Fueling the away-from-home food consumption trend is the proliferation of convenience stores, which doubled in number between 2010 and 2015. They provide a quick, convenient way to purchase snacks and other food items during work breaks or after-office hours.

Relying on traditional distribution systems might yield the longest market reach in the short term, but keeping consumers in the long run depends on winning brand loyalty. Marketers need to ensure that their products have the most appealing tastes and eye-catching designs.

One example of that strategy is local milk tea chain Heytea, which recently raised 400 million yuan from online lifestyle services platform Meituan Dianping.

Headquartered in the southern province of Guangdong, it quickly turned cheese-topped tea and fresh-fruit tea into a multimillion yuan business by adopting new taste combinations that won over younger consumers.

Growing from shops with little tea stools and only takeaway drinks, the chain has now evolved into more sophisticated settings that allow consumers to spend more time enjoying the beverages they buy.

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