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China's time-honored brands struggle to survive


03-30-2016 04:58 BJT

Lao zihao, or 'time-honored brand', is a coveted designation granted to brands with a long history, techniques or services, passed down through generations. But many of them are now facing challenges or even struggling to survive in the modern market.

ZHONG SHUIJIAO, LAI TANGYUAN. These names may not mean anything to foreigners, but to older Chinese in the southwestern city of Chengdu, they mean delicious.

The restaurants are what's known as time-honored brands, or in Chinese, lao zihao. That means a history of at least 50 years, strong Chinese characteristics, distinct regional features, high commercial and cultural value, and popularity.

But many of them now are struggling in a rapidly changing market.

"We are faced with a 50 percent sales decline compared with last year. We met many troubles.  We feel that we are very outdated, in terms of store furnishings, management value, and so on, and we are losing our market competitiveness," Restaurant manager Zou Xiao said.

Many classic dishes in these restaurants are based on treasured -- and even secret -- recipes. The skills required to prepare them are now at risk of dying out.

"In fact we have many experienced chefs in the restaurant.  But the young chefs are not willing to make down-to-earth efforts to learn the craft, so we are not optimistic about its continuance," Du Yong, vice president of Long Chaoshou Restaurant, said.

Still, not all laozi hao restaurants are losing favor. Fierce competition has forced some of the owners to think smarter.

Wang Qinrui is the third generation at this laozi hao. He's managed to attract more customers and rack up profits with a new innovative strategy.

He's made use of the Internet and integrated modern elements with traditional concepts. Traditional recipes are served on the first floor and hot-pot on the second floor, which enjoys a greater popularity among the young.

"The second floor has been doing brisk business...and ninety-five percent of the sales comes from the Internet," Wang Qinrui, manager of Fuqi Feipian Restaurant, said.

Can these old brands find new success with today's consumers? Perhaps, it depends on how they make use of the past, work hard in the present and look ahead innovatively to the future.

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