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Lao Gan Ma: The Story of China’s Most Spicy Godmother Tao Huabi

China’s ‘Old Godmother’ Tao Huabi, creator of Lao Gan Ma, is China’s hottest businesswoman.

Manya Koetse

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She is China’s ‘Old Godmother’: Tao Huabi (陶华碧) is the creator of one of China’s most famous chili sauces and is the embodiment of the ‘Chinese dream.’ By following her own path and relying on her business instinct, Tao rose from poverty and became a multi-billionaire. China’s spiciest businesswomen has now quietly retired.

‘Old Godmother’ (Lao Gan Ma) is a household name in China. Anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants or supermarkets is familiar with the brand of chili sauces that is made in China since the 1990s – known for the little portrait of a Chinese woman on its label.

That woman is Tao Huabi (陶华碧), who did not only develop the famous chili sauce, but also became the founder and CEO of the privately owned ‘Lao Gan Ma Foodstuff Company’ (老干妈风味食品有限责任公司). The company was established in south-central China’s Guiyang, Guizhou Province, in 1997.

On February 14 2017, Tao Huabi hit the top trending lists on Chinese social media with the hashtag “The Spiciest [Feistiest] Woman of China” (#曾经中国最火辣的女人), when several Chinese media reported that Tao Huabi had already quietly retired from her company in 2014 and that she is no longer a stockholder of the Lao Gan Ma brand.

 

ROUGH START IN LIFE

“The noodle shop business soon flourished – but not because of her noodles.”

 

With her journey from extreme poverty to ultimate wealth (she is even included in the Forbes list of China’s richest), Tao Huabi’s story reads like a novel.

Tao was born in 1947 in a remote mountain village in Zun’yi, Guizhou province. Since her family was too poor to send her to school, Tao was not taught how to read and write. When Tao was 20 years old, she married a local geologist and had two sons.

When her husband fell ill, Tao Huabi unexpectedly became widowed within a few years after she got married. She was forced to work outside the village to provide for her family; Tao worked around the clock to make rice tofu at night, which she sold at schools during the day.

In 1989, Tao set up a small noodle shop in the Nanming District of Guiyang. Although she just served simple noodles, she mixed them with her own spicy hot sauce with soybeans (豆豉麻辣酱). Tao was beloved in the neighborhood, where she became a ‘godmother’ to poor students which she would always give discount and some extra food.

With many local students and patrons visiting her little diner, the noodle shop business soon flourished – but not because of her noodles.

Tao Huabi discovered the popularity of her condiment when customers came in to purchase the sauce without the noodles. One day, when her sauce had sold out, she found that customers would not even eat her noodles without her special sauce.

When Tao learned that other noodle shops in the neighborhood were all doing good business by using her home-made sauce in their noodles, she realized the potential of her product.

 

FROM NOODLE SHOP TO CHILI SAUCE FACTORY

“At the age of 49, Tao took the plunge and set up her own sauce factory called ‘Old Godmother.'”

 

By the early 1990s, more truck drivers passed by Tao’s shop due to the construction of a new highway in the area. Tao took this as a chance to promote her condiments outside the realm of her own neighborhood and started giving out her sauces for free for the truckers to take home.

This form of word-of-mouth marketing soon paid off when people from outside the city district came to visit Tao’s shop to buy her chili sauces and other condiments.

By 1994, she had stopped selling noodles and had turned her little restaurant into a sauce shop. Two years later, at the age of 49, Tao took the plunge to rent a house in Guiyang, recruited 40 workers, and set up her own sauce factory called ‘Old Godmother’: ‘Lao Gan Ma‘ (老干妈). In 1997, the company was officially listed and open for business.

Although the Lao Gan Ma brand became successful almost immediately, Tao Huabi still struggled for years as a handful of competitors launched fake Lao Gan Ma sauces with similar packaging, and nearly ruined her business.

In 2001, when Tao Huabi was 54, the high court in Beijing finally ruled that other similar products could not use the “Lao Gan Ma” name nor imitate her packages. She received 400,000 RMB in compensation (±60,000$). Twelve years later, her company had an annual sales volume of 540 million US$ (3.7 billion RMB).

 

“THE MIRACLE OF GUIZHOU”

“Tao was included in the Forbes list richest families in China with an estimated worth of $1.05 billion.”

 

By now, Tao’s ‘chili empire’ has gone international, as her condiments are sold from the USA to Africa. She is known as the “Miracle of Guizhou.” Despite the many offers she had throughout her career to set up her business elsewhere, she always stayed true to her home-province – much to the delight of local government officials who have continuously shown their support for Tao.

The businesswoman is a true blessing for the province; not just because her brand has become known as a unique ‘product of Guizhou’, but mainly because she offers employment to 4100 people, and directly and indirectly generates income for ten-thousands of farmers.

Lao Gan Ma is by far the largest chili brand of China, with over 20 differently-flavored condiments.

In 2015, Tao was included in the Forbes list of richest families in China with an estimated worth of $1.05 billion.

Besides that Tao, now 70 years old, allegedly loves driving cars (she owns two Rolls-Royces, a Mercedez-Benz and a BMW), she is also politically active and has become a committee member of the People’s Congress at the provincial level.

According to the latest Chinese media reports, Tao Huabi has quietly retired in 2014, which was unknown to the public. She and her youngest son Li Hui (李辉) are no longer on the list of shareholders. Her oldest son Li Guishan (李贵山), however, is still a company shareholder.

“Somehow this makes me a bit emotional,” some Weibo commenters said.

“I just hope the quality will remain as good as ever,” some netizens responded on Weibo. “As a kid I always thought there was drugs in this sauce because it was so addictive.”

Others praised her life story, saying: “Old Godmother is an example that you can still make it in life without any education.”

“We actually have a lot of women here in Guizhou who can make their own delicious chili sauce,” another netizen wrote: “But of course, Old Godmother’s hot sauce is delicious and has its own characteristics. And in the era of Old Godmother, there were very few people who would rely on chili sauce to make a living. She has persisted and kept her prices low.”

A bottle of Lao Gan Ma is generally sold at around 8-10 RMB (±1-1,5US$). Overseas, prices vary from 8$ to 15$.

“Every great business person has to retire one day,” one commenter writes: “That does not diminish her legendary successful career!”

Others are surprised to find such a life story behind the Lan Gao Ma product: “Who knew our Old Godmother was such a fascinating person?”

– By Manya Koetse
Follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook

Sources and Further Reading

Baidu Page Tao Huabi (in Chinese): http://baike.baidu.com/view/117848.htm#reference-[1]-117848-wrap.

Phoenix News (in Chinese) http://finance.ifeng.com/a/20151202/14103739_0.shtml

Sina News (in Chinese) https://zx.sina.cn/n/2017-02-14/zx-ifyamkzq1302308.d.html

Sina Video (in Chinese) http://video.sina.com.cn/p/news/o/doc/2017-02-13/112965694793.html?wm=3049_0022&from=qudao

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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Food & Drinks

China’s Best Fast-Food Restaurants: These Are the 11 Most Popular Chains in the PRC

These are China’s most popular fast-food chains and the most important trends in the industry.

Manya Koetse

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The China Cuisine Association (CCA) released a list ranking the strongest fast-food companies in China this month. The list is a top 70 (!), but here, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of the top 11 in this ranking list of fast-food restaurants in China.

Fast food has been trending on Chinese social media this week after the China Cuisine Association (综合自中国烹饪协会, CCA) issued a new ‘best brands’ report during its 23rd China Fast Fast-Food Convention.

The report by the CCA found two major trends within China’s fast-food industry.

Firstly, fast-food brands, in general, are becoming more and more popular within mainland China. The industry has seen rapid growth over the past decade, with the first half of this year already seeing a 9.4% increase compared to last year.

In the period from January to August of 2019 alone, China’s restaurant industry had a total sales revenue of 2.8 trillion yuan (355 billion US dollars) – making it one of the country’s fastest-growing industries according to Sina Finance.

Second, Chinese-style fast food brands are rising in popularity. Although KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King still dominate the top three chart, Chinese players such as Laoxiangji (老乡鸡), Dicos (德克士), and Real Kungfu (真功夫) are becoming favorite fast-food restaurants among Chinese consumers.

On Weibo, some commenters suggest that it is inevitable for foreign players to still rule the top lists since they were the first fast-food chains to arrive in China. China’s own homegrown brands followed later and needed more time to grow, but, they predict, will only become more popular in the years to come.

Fast-food first arrived in China in the 1980s, with Kentucky Fried Chicken launching in the PRC in 1987 and McDonald’s following in 1990. The very first fast-food restaurant in China was actually not KFC, but ‘Yili’s Fast Food Shop’ (义利快餐厅), a brand established in 1906 by Scottish businessman James Neil and taken over by Chinese managers in the 1940s.

So what currently are China’s most popular fast-food chains? The list as issued by the CCA actually contains the 70 strongest fast-food companies of China.

For the scope of this article, we highlight the top-ranking 11 fast-food companies of China for you, starting with number one.

 

#1: Kentucky Fried Chicken (肯德基)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is the major brand by Yum China (百胜中国), China’s leading restaurant company that spun off from the American Yum! Brands in 2016. Yum China has the exclusive right to operate KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell in China, and also owns the Little Sleep hotpot concept. The KFC official Weibo account almost has 2.5 million fans.

People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland. Its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Within a decade, KFC already had 100 different restaurants in China.

The question of how an American fast-food chain succeeded in becoming the number one in China, outnumbering McDonald’s, is at the center of the book KFC in China: Secret Recipe for Success. Some reasons that contribute to KFC’s success in China is the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, and the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste.

 

#2: McDonald’s (麦当劳)

Twenty-nine years ago, McDonald’s opened China’s first restaurant in Shenzhen under the name ‘Màidāngláo’ (麦当劳), a Chinese rendering of the name.

Since 2017, the restaurant’s official name change to ‘Jīn Gǒngmén’ (金拱门), literally meaning ‘Golden Arches’, made headlines both in- and outside China. The name as displayed on the restaurants, however, has always remained the same; ‘Golden Arches’ is just the formal Chinese name of the mother company.

Despite its rocky journey in China – McDonald’s has always faced strong competition within the Chinese fast food market and had to deal with a 2014 food scandal – the American fast-food chain is still popular among Chinese, with many sharing fond memories of their first McDonald’s experience.

The Weibo account now has 1,1 million fans.

The chain still has more room for growth in the PRC, and is looking at new ways to franchise on the mainland. McDonald’s is also always adapting to local tastes. The Chinese menu offers products such as Cola Chicken wings or big chicken cutlet rice bowls.

 

#3: Burger King (汉堡王)

Compared to KFC or McDonald’s, Burger King is somewhat of a newcomer to the Chinese market, but its growth is also rapid: the first restaurant in China opened in 2005, and its 1000th already opened in 2018.

China’s fast-growing middle class has helped the American brand to flourish on the mainland, as did McDonald’s former president of greater China, Peter Tan, who became Burger King’s senior vice president.

Burger King has a wide and strong social media presence in China, with various official Weibo accounts actively promoting Burger King in various cities. The accounts have a personal approach and often post jokes and funny videos.

 

#4: Home Original Chicken / Laoxiangji (老乡鸡)

Home Original Chicken currently is the most popular Chinese-style fast-food chain in the PRC. To celebrate this fact, various restaurants around the country held some promotional events this week, even giving out lunch for free in some of its 800+ locations across the country. The promotion went trending on Weibo, with the hashtag ‘Laoxiangji invited the whole country for dinner’ (#老乡鸡宴请全国#) getting 280 million views.

The short history of the restaurant goes back to 2003 when chicken breeder Shu Congxuan opened the first location in Hefei, Anhui province. The chain’s menu items look completely different from the top 3 in this list; ‘Laoxiangji’ serves some classic pork meatballs, meatballs wrapped in fried gluten, hot and sour fish, or steamed eggplant with chili and sour sauce.

A combi meal as promoted by Laoxiangji.

The ‘Laoxiangji’ Weibo account now has over 360,300 followers.

 

#5: Dicos (德克士)

Dicos, founded in 1994, is one of the biggest Chinese-style fast-food chains in the PRC. It was founded in Chengdu and serves fried chicken and different fried chicken rice bowls, among other things. It already opened its 2000th store in 2013.

Tianjin Ding Qiao Food Service owns Dicos. In a way, you could say Dicos is one of KFC’s biggest competitors in the PRC as it is also famous for its fried chicken buckets.

The restaurant’s Weibo account has over 727,000 fans. Besides promoting fried chicken dishes, the account also regularly promotes the Dicos brands’ various sweet desserts.

 

#6: Real Kungfu (真功夫)

Real Kungfu is probably the fast-food restaurant with the coolest logo – which looks like an image of Bruce Lee- and brand name here.

The restaurant is headquartered in Guangzhou and opened its first restaurant in 1990. The restaurant serves various meal sets at very reasonable prices, usually including a rice bowl, soup, boiled lettuce, and a meat main dish.

Photo of Zhen Kungfu order by Weibo user.

Weibo account @Zhengongfu has more than 188,000 followers. The account often posts about movies or series, with the chain associating itself with Chinese popular culture.

 

#7: Country Style Cooking (乡村基)

Country Style Cooking (Xiāngcūnjī, 乡村基) is originally a Chongqing restaurant that opened its first restaurant in 1996 under the name ‘Country Style Chicken’ (乡村鸡). It now has over 600 restaurants throughout China.

The restaurant’s name is literally also its theme: providing real ‘home-style’ cooking from the country to its customers. It serves some classic stir-fry dishes such as the Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁).

The brand is still relatively small on Chinese social media, having some 39000 fans on its Weibo account.

 

#8: Ajisen Ramen (味干拉面)

Ajisen Ramen is the first Japanese chain in this list, which focuses on Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes. It operates more than 700 noodle restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China, but also has restaurants in other countries across the world.

Its history goes all the way back to 1968, but its franchise endeavors started later.

The chain has no presence on Weibo.

 

#9: Yonghe King (永和大王)

Yonghe King is another Chinese-style fast-food chain that, like Ajisen, also focuses on noodles. Its first restaurant was opened in 1995 in Shanghai.

The brand is not fully Chinese anymore, as it merged with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC), the biggest fast-food company in the Philippines, in 2004. Since 2016, Jollibee is 100% owner of Yonghe King.

Yonghe King’s menu is diverse, as it offers various breakfast items, meal sets with noodles or rice, and desserts. It promotes its breakfast as the perfect start of the day for busy people who have to get to work early and have no time to prepare a meal.

With almost 409,000 fans on Weibo, Yonghe King is pretty popular on Chinese social media.

 

#10: Yoshinoya (吉野家)

Yoshinoya is the second Japanese chain in this list and it is the oldest brand, going back all the way to 1899.

Although Yoshinoya is a ‘fast food’ chain because, some of the items on its menu are not as fast to eat. The restaurant is known for its beef bowls, but how about a one-person hotpot set?

Hop Hing Group, based in Hong Kong, is the licensed operator of Yoshinoya in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The restaurant has recently become a target of violence during the Hong Kong Protests, as it was labeled as being a Beijing supporter.

 

#11: Mr. Lee California Beef Noodle King (李先生加州牛肉面大王)

The Beijing brand Mr. Lee is a popular fast-food chain in mainland China that specializes in beef noodle soup. Its first store was opened in 1988.

The ‘California’ part in its time comes from the Californian Chinese-American businessman Li Beiqi (李北祺) who started the company – hence the restaurant’s name (Mr. ‘Li’ in pinyin).

Besides the beef noodle soup, the restaurant also offers rice meals, dumplings, sweets, evening snacks and more. The Mr. Lee’s Weibo account has over 55000 fans.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Fashion & Beauty

Turning Drinks into Fashion – Chinese Designer Yang Yang Personifies Popular Beverages

Personified beverage fashion – trending because it’s cool.

Manya Koetse

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Every now and then there are posts on Weibo that just seem to keep on making their rounds. The ‘beverage fashion’ drawings collection by Yang Yang (杨杨) is one of these posts, first popping up on Chinese social media in June of this year.

Yang Yang is a 28-year-old designer from Anhui, who started drawing when she was 13 years old. She has been active in the fashion business for eight years now and has become popular on Kuaishou, China’s popular short video and live-streaming app.

If Coca Cola were a fashionista, what would she look like? In the eyes of Yang Yang, this would be her:

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Wahaha (哇哈哈) purified water, produced by the largest beverage company in China, is personified here:

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Energy drink brand Red Bull China, a Sino-foreign joint venture company, uses different colors than cans in the US or Europe.

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

One particularly striking illustration by Yang Yang is that of Nongfu icea tea drink Cha π (茶兀).

Nongfu Spring, one of the most common brands of bottled water in China, suddenly seems very trendy now.

This is the fashion version of Sea Crystal Lemon, known for its bright blue and yellow.

Following the various Weibo posts that are making their rounds with the illustrations by Yang Yang, more drawings seem to have been added later via other channels, including that of Pepsi, Wong Lo Kat, and Snow Beer.

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Although Yang Yang’s designs have gone viral this year, it is not known if they will have a chance to be turned into wearable fashion. As for Yang, she says she was just “playing around” to keep a creative mind.

Also read: From Stay-at-Home Dad to Fashion Designer – ‘Super Dad’ Rises to Fame

By Manya Koetse

Sources:
https://k.sina.com.cn/article_1872762823_p6fa017c702700xosj.html
https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20190619A0POST

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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