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Tycoon's rags-to-riches story echoes nation's rise

Late head of Wahaha Group remembered for innovative ideas, humble lifestyle, concern for others

By WANG ZHUOQIONG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-29 07:41

Customers scramble to buy clothes at the Beijing Exhibition Center in 1983. WANG WENLAN/CHINA DAILY

Famous brand

At its peak, Wahaha boasted more than 7,000 distributors, over 100,000 wholesalers and 5 million sales outlets across China.

"Wahaha is one of the few private enterprises in China that has been active in the consumer market since the beginning of the market economy and it is still developing rapidly," said Jason Yu, general manager of Kantar Worldpanel China, a market research firm.

"It is also one of the few Chinese brands with strong penetration, ensuring mutual benefits for the brand and distributors," he said.

Wahaha's sales model allows it to penetrate millions of retail outlets in China, including in rural areas.

This wide distribution network is unmatched by many international giants and domestic companies, giving Wahaha an edge in maintaining steady revenue flows in the era of the internet, Yu said.

In 1996, the company extended its portfolio to include bottled water, which solidified its market presence. In 2013, the company made 78.2 billion yuan ($10.8 billion) in revenue, still the highest annual revenue recorded for China's beverage market.

"So far, no domestic beverage producer has surpassed that record," said Zhu Danpeng, a food and drink sector analyst.

Although consumers have more choices today, and many new brands achieve rapid breakthroughs using e-commerce, Wahaha has successfully maintained substantial revenue, Yu said.

Over the decades, Wahaha has also had many successful product innovations, such as Nutri-Express and AD Milk, which met the needs of consumers at the time and reflected Zong's profound insight into the domestic consumer market, Yu said.

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