Popsicle lovers happy to pay a Bright price

A bigger reason for the lasting charms of Bright's humble 'ice pop trio' lies in its reliable quality throughout the years.

I’m not particularly a big fan of ice creams or confectionery and I cannot remember when I last peeled off the wrapper of a popsicle and sank my teeth into it.

Chilling out on an ice lolly is indeed a common delight amid searing summer heat. But that delight is now in danger of being lost as a result of the domination of much more expensive alternatives in the market.

It was often observed in the past that Shanghai residents cannot survive the summer heat without air-conditioning and popsicles from Bright, a local dairy conglomerate.

Bright’s popsicles, which come in the flavor of red beans, green beans and salt soda, offer a refreshing respite from the heat and are highly sought after because of its affordability. Normally a popsicle costs a little over one yuan (US$15 cents).

But a recent WeChat posting detailing how difficult it is to buy a Bright ice lolly these days has touched a raw nerve and shown just how strong the city’s obsession is with one of the biggest icons of “Made in Shanghai.” According to the posting, Bright popsicles are nowhere to be found in many supermarkets and convenience stores, suggesting that they may have gone out of stock.

To popsicle lovers, this is a crisis that warrants the utmost attention, so much so that they started an online campaign calling for the dairy giant to raise the prices of its products.

To the pleasant surprise of Bright management, a wave of online comments urged, even begged, them for a price hike so that their beloved popsicles will not be pushed out of the market by more lucrative competitors.

“Every brand of ice cream is more expensive now, come on, raise the price, will you?” one comment read.

“Now a pancake costs 5 yuan instead of 1.5 yuan, why don’t you allow your products to be a little more expensive?” read another. In an open letter following the online campaign, Bright management said they were flattered by the enduring trust Shanghai consumers placed in their products.

Owing to surging labor and raw material costs, the company actually adjusted the price tags early this year, with the price of green and red bean lollies growing 50 percent to 1.5 yuan, and salt soda ice pops from 0.7 yuan to 1 yuan, says a company statement. To reciprocate the good will of its customers, Bright said it will try to maintain the current price levels to account for the purchasing power of different social groups.

While many are crediting Bright for its commitment to bring a delicacy to the masses at a consistently low price, we are also reminded of the significance of brand loyalty and what it takes to earn and retain it in this fast-paced consumerist society. Of course, as with what happened to almost all the time-honored Shanghai brands, the recent popular fetish over the Bright popsicles has a lot to do with nostalgia.

‘People’s lolly’

We’ve seen it at work in the continued popularity of White Rabbit candies, pancakes baked Shanghai style, mooncakes with pork fillings, and many other local treats that my generation grew up savoring. The ploy to appeal to the collective childhood memory of many Shanghainese seldom disappoints commercially. But in my opinion, a bigger reason for the lasting charms of Bright’s humble “ice pop trio” lies in its reliable quality throughout the years.

Since Bright popsicle and ice cream products entered the market decades ago, their stable quality has insulated them from a spate of food safety scandals that have rocked the industry. A Baidu search of quality issues concerning Bright popsicles returned no results, something extremely rare in an Internet age where bad news travels at light speed.

Another possible explanation for the city’s unyielding love affair with Bright — even when double scoops from Movenpick and Italian gelato are also in vogue — is perhaps that the public is relieved to have a company mindful of corporate social responsibility and hell-bent on making a summertime goody so cheap that it is effectively hailed as the “people’s lolly.”

Providing affordable products and services appears to be high on the agenda of some businesses as well. During multiple visits to Japan I was invariably struck by how prices remained flat in the country, where a bowl of ramen is consistently priced within the range of 800 yen (US$7.2) to 1,200 yen.

There is nothing wrong with making money — a business is meant to turn a profit. But in their quest to boost bottom lines, many have lost sight of their responsibility for the economically underprivileged.

Cringe-inducing stories of certain products selling for unreasonably high prices speak volumes about sheer human greed and a criminal lack of moral scruples. As someone born and raised in Shanghai, I’m proud that we still have a business in pursuit of a lot more beyond seeking profits.

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