Moutai gain­ing fame be­yond bor­ders

China Daily (Canada) - - COMPANYSPECIAL - By ZHAO KAI and LI JUN

Lead­ing Chi­nese liquor brand Moutai was once again among the best-known names world­wide on lists com­piled by au­thor­i­ta­tive brand eval­u­a­tion agen­cies in re­cent months.

It was hon­ored at least once ev­ery month from May to Au­gust.

The brand’s grow­ing po­si­tion in global rank­ings sig­nals that Moutai has been val­i­dated by the Western brand eval­u­a­tion sys­tem, show­ing the rise of Chi­nese brands, crit­ics said. Sto­ried past

Long be­fore its fame ex­tended be­yond the bor­ders of the na­tion, the brand had a strong foothold on its home turf.

The time-hon­ored tra­di­tion of mak­ing the liquor can be traced back to the Western Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 24), ac­cord­ing to the Records of Great His­to­rian, the mag­num opus of his­to­rian Sima Qian. The story goes that the leg­endary Hanwu Em­peror was im­pressed by the tasty liquor.

And in the Ge­neal­ogy of Wu’s Fam­ily, which was dis­cov­ered in the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), there are records of a liquor pro­duc­tion workshop in Moutai vil­lage in South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince that go back as far as 1,600 years ago, show­ing lo­cals de­vel­oped ma­ture liquor-mak­ing ex­per­tise long ago.

When Moutai won a golden prize at the 1915 Panama Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion, it first rose to fame around the globe. Its brand in­flu­ence has been so strong over the years that its logo is vis­i­ble in pho­tos of many im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal events.

One such event oc­curred dur­ing the Xi’an In­ci­dent in De­cem­ber 1936, a turn­ing point in mod­ern Chi­nese his­tory. Two gen­er­als, in­clud­ing Zhang Xueliang, led a mutiny in the hopes of push­ing their leader Chi­ang Kai-shek to co­op­er­ate with the Com­mu­nist Party of China and fight against the Ja­panese invasion.

When Zhou En­lai, a CPC leader, went to Xi’an for ne­go­ti­a­tions, Gen­eral Zhang treated him to a bot­tle of Moutai.

Moutai was also served at a ban­quet dur­ing the Chongqing Ne­go­ti­a­tion, a crit­i­cal meet­ing be­tween Mao Ze­dong and Chi­ang, the lead­ers of the two par­ties, in the south­west­ern mu­nic­i­pal­ity, af­ter the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1937- 45).

When the Pre­mier Zhou En­lai led a diplo­matic del­e­ga­tion to the Geneva con­fer­ence in 1954, he of­fered Moutai and the film But­ter­fly Lover as a gift to guests. From then on, Moutai has been known as na­tional liquor.

Nowa­days, Chi­nese lead­ers still like us­ing Moutai to en­ter­tain guests from around the world.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping toasted his US coun­ter­part Barack Obama with Moutai dur­ing his state visit in early June, 2013.

“We’re de­voted to pro­mot­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and build­ing up Moutai into a busi­ness brand of cul­tural value,” said Yuan Ren­guo, pres­i­dent of Kwe­i­chow Moutai Co Ltd. Unique en­vi­ron­ment

Tucked away in the sleepy town of Moutai in Guizhou prov­ince, the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for the liquor has a unique en­vi­ron­ment.

The Chishui River that runs through the town orig­i­nates from neigh­bor­ing Yun­nan prov­ince. Be­cause there are no ma­jor sources of pol­lu­tion, such as hy­dropower sta­tions up­river or over-de­vel­op­ment, the river re­mains un­tainted.

At the same time, the wa­ter qual­ity meets the na­tional stan­dards of high-qual­ity drink­ing wa­ter, with ap­pro­pri­ate pH and hard­ness level and min­eral con­tent, mak­ing the river a per­fect wa­ter source for mak­ing Moutai liquor.

There is an an­nual phe­nom­e­non that causes the river to turn red­dish­brown from silt that col­lects dur­ing the rainy sea­son, which lasts roughly from the Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val in sum­mer to Dou­ble Ninth Day in au­tumn. Af­ter this sea­son, the wa­ter re­mains clear for the rest of the year.

Moutai’s pro­ce­dures are in tune with this sea­sonal rhythm – wa­ter is col­lected on the Dou­ble Ninth Day to moisten the sorghum from which the liquor is made.

Also, the com­pany’s fa­cil­i­ties are lo­cated in a val­ley that is con­ducive to grow­ing a rich va­ri­ety of micro­organ­isms.

The micro­organ­isms, which as­sist in the open fer­men­ta­tion process, are cru­cial to Moutai’s qual­ity, ex­perts said.

To­pog­ra­phy is another con­trib­u­tor to Moutai’s suc­cess.

The soil in the town, rich in min­er­als, also con­tains gravel and sand, en­abling bet­ter wa­ter per­me­abil­ity.

This type of soil cre­ates a nat­u­ral fil­tra­tion sys­tem that pu­ri­fies the wa­ter while adding trace el­e­ments of healthy min­er­als.

Such a rare type of soil plays a vi­tal role in giv­ing Moutai the qual­ity for which it is know, in­dus­try ob­servers said.

“The to­pog­ra­phy is a gift from na­ture to Moutai,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

The unique en­vi­ron­ment en­dows the liquor brand with qual­i­ties that can­not be repli­cated.

Af­ter the gov­ern­ment called on the com­pany to in­crease pro­duc­tion of the branded liquor, a new fac­tory was built at a dif­fer­ent lo­cale in the 1970s. De­spite us­ing same recipe, raw ma­te­ri­als and pro­duc­tion pro­ce­dures as well as the same work­ers and tech­ni­cians, the new fac­tory failed to re­pro­duce the orig­i­nal Moutai fla­vor.

The ties be­tween the prod­uct and its ge­o­graph­i­cal ori­gin en­abled Moutai to be­come the first liquor to join the ranks of the ge­o­graph­i­cal in­di­ca­tion pro­tected in China in 2001. An­cient, mod­ern mix

Pro­duc­ing a bot­tle of Moutai takes at least five years from when it is first dis­tilled to when it ships out from ware­houses. Its ag­ing times are among the long­est in the do­mes­tic liquor in­dus­try — one year for pro­duc­tion, three for stor­age and one for stor­age af­ter blend­ing, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

The tra­di­tional pro­ce­dures in­volve at least eight cy­cles of fer­men­ta­tion and nine rounds of high-tem­per­a­ture dis­til­la­tion un­der strict con­di­tions be­fore the liquor is stored in jars.

“We are proud of our tra­di­tional pro­cess­ing meth­ods, a com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources and fer­men­ta­tion tech­niques,” said Pres­i­dent Yuan.

While keep­ing the tra­di­tional tech­niques alive, Moutain group con­tin­ues to in­no­vate.

The man­age­ment for­mu­lated a qual­ity stan­dard sys­tem that cov­ers the en­tire pro­duc­tion process.

Its R&D team re­searches micro­organ­isms, food qual­ity and safety, fer­men­ta­tion tech­nol­ogy, liquor fla­vor and how to use mod­ern tech­nolo­gies to im­prove tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion pro­cesses.

The sources of the prod­uct’s high qual­ity are an at­ten­tion to de­tail cou­pled with strict con­trol of raw ma­te­ri­als and wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

About 13 years ago, be­fore it had been pop­u­lar­ized na­tion­wide, the con­cept of or­ganic farm­ing was al­ready in­stilled in the Moutai staff. They con­sider farms to be the start­ing point of pro­duc­tion, the com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tives said.

Moutai be­gan to build an or­ganic sorghum pro­duc­tion center in 2000 as a raw ma­te­rial source, the first of its kind in the do­mes­tic liquor in­dus­try. It poured nearly 100 mil­lion yuan ($16.4 mil­lion) into the sorghum center over the en­su­ing years.

The Moutai farm has been cer­ti­fied by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion as an or­ganic raw ma­te­ri­als base and was later rec­og­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Or­ganic Agri­cul­ture Move­ments as well as many cer­ti­fi­ca­tion agen­cies in Canada and the Euro­pean Union.

The high grain con­tent par­tially ex­plains the mel­low fla­vor of Moutai, in­dus­try in­sid­ers said.

About 1 kilo­gram liquor is made out of ev­ery 5 kg of grain, which means about 3 kg more grain goes into each bot­tle than the av­er­age do­mes­tic pro­ducer.

Moutai spends more than 4 mil­lion yuan to plant grains in its raw ma­te­rial cen­ters an­nu­ally, com­pany ex­ec­u­tives said.

At the com­pany, qual­ity rather than for quan­tity is re­warded, they said, not­ing that “qual­ity al­ways comes be­fore the con­sid­er­a­tions of pro­duc­tion out­put, costs, speed and eco­nomic in­ter­ests. That’s our value”. ‘Big­ger stake in so­ci­ety’

“Lead­ing brands should have a big­ger stake in so­ci­ety,” Moutai Pres­i­dent Yuan said.

All Moutai dis­trib­u­tors have vowed to “run busi­ness in good faith and sell no fakes”, an in­te­gral part of the com­pany’s an­nual meet­ings.

The com­pany’s sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity is not only re­flected in its dis­trib­u­tor man­age­ment sys­tem but also in its prompt, law­ful pay­ment of taxes and div­i­dends as well as its trans­par­ent cor­po­rate gov­er­nance struc­ture.

In ad­di­tion to its cus­tomers, em­ploy­ees and share­hold­ers, Moutai also shows its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in char­ity and res­cue ef­forts.

Right af­ter the se­vere Wenchuan earth­quake in Sichuan prov­ince in 2008, the com­pany do­nated 5 mil­lion yuan to the vic­tims and later raised another 31.7 mil­lion yuan for re­con­struc­tion af­ter the dis­as­ter.

It con­tin­ued to do­nate 5 mil­lion yuan to the quake-af­fected Yushu area in Yun­nan prov­ince in 2010 and 20 mil­lion yuan to the vic­tims of the Ya’an quake in Sichuan in 2013.

Also, it do­nated 2.6 mil­lion yuan to fight the drought in the south­west­ern part of the coun­try in 2010 and con­tin­ued to make nearly 10 mil­lion yuan do­na­tions af­ter­wards.

Over years, the group com­pany has sup­ported de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal in­dus­try and agri­cul­ture. In 2008 alone, the fi­nan­cial aid in this di­rec­tion sur­passed 10 mil­lion yuan.

More­over, the com­pany do­nated 100 mil­lion yuan to China Youth De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion in mid2012 to sup­port 20,000 univer­sity and col­lege stu­dents from poor ru­ral fam­i­lies across the coun­try.

It is the largest one-time dona­tion to the Project Hope, a char­ity project co-or­ga­nized by the foun­da­tion and the Com­mu­nist Youth League Cen­tral Com­mit­tee to help stu­dents from poverty-stricken ar­eas af­ford school ed­u­ca­tion.

The com­pany poured more 100 mil­lion yuan into the project in July 2013, sup­port­ing 20,000 univer­sity stu­dents to com­plete ed­u­ca­tion.

Moutai has do­nated nearly 1.1 bil­lion yuan in char­ity from 2006 to 2010.

Since 2009, Moutai is­sued an an­nual CSR re­port in var­i­ous cities, in­clud­ing Bei­jing and Guiyang, cap­i­tal of Gui­hou prov­ince.

A par­tic­i­pant in Moutai’s de­no­ta­tion cer­e­mony to Project Hope said, “Qual­ity liquor must be made by nice guys. Moutai’s cor­po­rate cul­ture and val­ues carry a lot of weight with the brand.” Con­tact the writ­ers at zhaokai@chi­nadaily.com.cn and li­jun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Jia Tingt­ing con­trib­uted to this story.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The com­pany’s front gate de­clares Moutai’s sta­tus as the na­tion’s most fa­mous spir­its.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Tucked away in a town in the moun­tains in Guizhou prov­ince, Moutai’s man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for the brand has a unique en­vi­ron­ment, which gives the liquor its dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics.

CHEN FEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

The or­ganic sorghum pro­duc­tion center Moutai built in 2000 as a raw ma­te­rial source is the first of its kind in the do­mes­tic liquor in­dus­try.

ZHANG WEI / CHINA DAILY

Work­ers are pack­ag­ing Moutai liquor at the com­pany.

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