A must for canmakers doing business with China: know the best selling drink in China, Wanglaoji 王老吉(Part 2)

It is a continuation of my preceding blog of the same title.

About WLJ the company

The history of WJL dated back to 170 years ago or the Qing dynasty. History has it that the legendary, Wang Lao Ji, a Chinese medicine practitioner, developed a formula for certain herbal tea, which was said to be effective for curing an epidemic in Guangzhou at that time. The tea was so popular that people from afar came to Wang’s  medicine shop to seek his medical advice and consumed the tea.  The formula was passed from generations to generations. The production of the tea became a business. It is said that several branches of the Wang’s family claimed to have the original formula.  When Communists took control of China in 1949, one branch of the Wong family moved to Hong Kong and continued the business under a Hong Kong company, while the business of the  Mainland WLJ was taken over by the China government.

The Hong Kong WLJ has been selling the tea in Hong Kong and overseas under the brand, Wong Lo Kut, which is the transliteration of its phonetic Cantonese name. WLJ was sold in Tetra paks until recently. The tea was only massively produced in cans in 2004. Prior to that it was thought that the tea would cause certain chemical reactions with metals, and therefore not compatible with cans. As a matter of fact the China WLJ thought it had little use for the related patent that it granted the use of license thereof to the Hong Kong WLJ for 20 years at a nominal fee.

After the Hong Kong company obtained the license, it undertook an aggressive marketing strategy in China by promoting the tea on national TV, buses, billboards and direct sales at supermarkets and restaurants. The tea soon became the number one drink in China. That woke up the China WLJ as it had apparently let go a money generating machine on the cheap. It is said that the China WLJ has been selling the tea parallelly in China. It is further said that there is an going legal battle between the two companies over the rights to sell the tea in China. One may have to look at the printing on the can to find out which is the producer, the Hong Kong or the China WLJ.

About WLJ the drink

A more appropriate description for the kind of tea that WLJ belongs to  is “cool tea” or liangcha 凉茶, a generic name for the kind of herbal tea in question. Liangcha used to be commonly found in family run liangcha shops in Hong Kong or could be home brewed each according to its own formula. Due to the change of demography in Hong Kong, less and less of those shops could be found, let alone the home brewed practice.

According to traditional Chinese medical theory, liangcha, is known for being able to remove the bodily heatness from one’s body and almost all symptoms of minor illnesses are due to excessive bodily or internal heatness (neiri 内热).  Such  symptoms can be dryness or cracks on lips, ulcers on gum or tongue, hot air in nasal cavity,  swelling of the throat, tiredness of the whole body, loss of appetite and etc..  If you mention any one of such symptoms to a Chinese, you don’t need expert medical advice, he or she, young or old, is likely to advise you to drink liangcha, to help reduce your bodily heatness,jianghuo 降火, hence the name cool tea. For this reason, one should not take “cool tea” literally as the tea does not necessarily have to be drunk cold. Quite the contrary, the proper way is to drink it while it is hot.  The coolness of the tea refers to one’s bodily heatness. If one has excess of the latter, he needs to be “cooled down” until a balance is restored.

Traditionally, it is not a cool thing (see the pun) to drink the cool tea in front of other people as it is bitter and is usually drunk from a rice bowl. However, WLJ added sugar to its tea and HKWLJ took it a step further by producing the drink in cans and undertook massive promotion efforts. Now WLJ can be consumed widely in restaurants and other public places. It is now a cool thing to do so after or with a meal, a hotpot dinner or a BBQ especially Chinese foods are known for their spiciness and greasiness, which are among the major causes for the excessive bodily heatness. Besides, some of the Chinese smokers and drinkers see WLJ as a soothing medicine, which has the effect of lessening the occurrence of illnesses or diseases brought on by such habits. No wonder WLJ literally sells like Cokes in China or should I say better than Cokes.

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