Time-honored brands need to honor customers
The Ministry of Commerce's recent removal of 55 enterprises from its Laozihao, or time-honored brand list, came as a shock to many who had been proud of their local delicacies for generations. And another 73 brands received warnings.
It is not the first time the ministry has checked the performance of these enterprises. It had last done so in 2017 but that time the exercise did not raise much attention because only minor corrections were made. This time, however, over 10 percent of the enterprises on the list were either removed or issued a warning.
To help the development of old and influential enterprises in the food industry, the Ministry of Commerce began to accept applications for identifying time-honored brands in 2006. To be eligible, the applicants need to have a business history of more than 50 years, enjoy popularity among customers and boast unique skills and flavor. Of course, the precondition is that these enterprises should mostly be owned by Chinese citizens. Before the ministry's recent readjustment, 1,100 brands were on the list.
For any enterprise, recognition by central authorities as a national time-honored brand is a ticket to greater success. Apart from being frequently invited to special fairs and activities organized by central and local authorities to give them more publicity, such enterprises can easily get into government purchasing lists. With such government endorsement, customers take it for granted that the quality of food and service provided by such enterprises would be among the best. In fact, because of the policy support such time-honored brands enjoy, most of them are doing well and even breezed through the three difficult years of the COVID-19 pandemic when a lot of businesses shut down.
According to explanations from sources in the ministry or the media investigation, most of the brands that were eased out of the list this time had either been out of business or were no longer owned by Chinese. Some even started dealing in non-food products, while others were in debt, poorly managed or producing poor-quality products that were selling at a high price.
I feel bad that so many time-honored brands, some of which I am familiar with, have been lost. However, there is also a sense of relief that some bad nuts have been removed so that they can no longer cheat us customers because of their shiny outer shells.
I used to be a hot pursuer of time-honored brands when eating out in Beijing or when buying cakes, tea and roasted chestnuts for my family. The quality of these products is not bad, when compared to those provided by numerous restaurants and shops in the neighborhood, but I could hardly call it a good bargain when I realized that it cost me one-third more.
So their removal from the list of time-honored brands is a punishment some deserved, while it will also alert those still on the list to not take their place for granted.
They should realize that being a time-honored brand might give them a passport to success but it certainly doesn't guarantee success. In fact, it is like a double-edged sword. While it brings them glory, it also brings them under the spotlight because of which customers will constantly scrutinize their service and government authorities monitor their quality.
They should be aware that no matter how pure one's bloodline or how noble one's birth is, it can all come to naught under tough market competition. Unless an enterprise is well-prepared for challenges and pushes forward with innovation-driven development, its future, even when anointed, the title of Time-honored Brand, is doomed.
I expect that the Ministry of Commerce's recent action will force the about 1,000 companies that are still on the list to keep improving the quality of their products and services. I hope to see new blood continuously transfused into the list. Only when we can get rid of the stale and get in the fresh can we ensure that the brands on the list are not only time-honored but also customer-honored.
The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.
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