‘ Ty­coon fruits’ cov­eted by young con­sumers de­spite high price

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By REN LIYING and ZHOU YAN in Shi­ji­azhuang Xin­hua

A unique orange brand has be­come one of the most cov­eted fruits in China this win­ter, though it is sold for five times the av­er­age mar­ket price — and is in­vari­ably out of stock.

“It’s not just be­cause the fruits are ex­cep­tion­ally sweet and juicy,” said Shi Jin, an of­fice worker in Shi­ji­azhuang, cap­i­tal of He­bei prov­ince. “The brand has a big story be­hind it.”

For weeks, Shi has been try­ing to buy the leg­endary “Chu’s orange” from its online re­tailer, Ben­lai.com. The fruits, how­ever, are al­ways in short sup­ply and sell for at least 25 yuan ($4.1) a kg, com­pared with an av­er­age 5 yuan per kg for or­di­nary or­anges.

“Even when there are or­anges in stock, the online store only takes or­ders from Bei­jing and Tian­jin,” ac­cord­ing to Shi.

The “Chu’s orange” is named af­ter 85-year-old Chu Shi­jian, China’s for­mer “to­bacco king” who built a strug­gling to­bacco firm into the coun­try’s largest and most prof­itable cig­a­rette pro­ducer in the 1980s. Chu, how­ever, was jailed for life on cor­rup­tion charges in 1998.

Af­ter he was re­leased on med­i­cal pa­role in 2002, Chu con­tracted 160 hectares of waste­land in the moun­tains of South­west China’s Yun­nan prov­ince and be­gan to plant or­anges.

To­day, his fruit farm pro­duces 8,000 met­ric tons of or­anges a year, gen­er­at­ing 30 mil­lion yuan in an­nual prof­its. Most of his prod­ucts are sold online.

“Th­ese are not or­di­nary or­anges. Each fruit car­ries Chu’s story of per­se­ver­ance,” Shi said. “So the fruits are not just de­li­cious, but in­spir­ing, too.”

In­deed, many buy­ers said they covet Chu’s or­anges be­cause they re­spect and sup­port him. “Our whole fam­ily re­spects him for his hard work and un­yield­ing spirit,” said Ke Ting, a full-time mother in Bei­jing.

“We bought his or­anges last year and again this year,” she said, ex­plain­ing that the or­anges tasted bet­ter than any oth­ers on sale at Bei­jing’s mar­kets.

How­ever, Ke said she was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by Chu’s en­durance through dif­fi­cult times.

“When we trav­eled to Yun­nan for va­ca­tion this sum­mer, I took my son Jia Fang to visit the Hongta Group, the to­bacco gi­ant Chu built, and told him the old man’s story,” she said. “He was clearly moved.”

Ke said she hoped her son would grow up to be strong and un­bend­ing, even if he had to suf­fer set­backs and fail­ures.

Chu was not the first busi­ness ty­coon to take up farm­ing in China. Sev­eral other big-name busi­ness lead­ers have cho­sen to show their strength in agri­cul­ture.

Real es­tate ty­coon Pan Shiyi has launched “Pan’s ap­ples”, a sweet, juicy ap­ple species grown in North­west China’s Gansu prov­ince. The ap­ples are sold for 30 yuan per kg, six times the av­er­age ap­ple price, but sell well at online re­tail out­lets, in­clud­ing Ben­lai.com and Taobao.com.

Mean­while, Liu Chuanzhi, founder of the Len­ovo Group, China’s PC gi­ant, is soon to launch a qual­ity Chi­nese goose­berry brand, a ma­jor prod­uct of Len­ovo’s new agri­cul­tural arm. The fruit will be priced at 56 yuan per kg, al­most 10 times the av­er­age price for other brands.

When his com­pany’s agri­cul­tural arm was set up last year, Liu said he was op­ti­mistic about the new busi­ness, as more Chi­nese con­sumers were will­ing to pay a higher price for bet­ter, safer food amid grow­ing food safety con­cerns.

He was echoed by Liu Shan­shan, a 30-year-old Bei­jing white- col­lar worker. “The names of th­ese busi­ness ty­coons, when in­cluded in the brand names, in­crease con­sumer con­fi­dence in their qual­ity. That’s why I have cho­sen th­ese ex­pen­sive fruits on the Web in­stead of the cheaper ones sold at neigh­bor­hood stores.”

Most avid buy­ers of “ty­coon brand” fruits are young In­ter­net jock­eys in their 20s and 30s.

“My par­ents, how­ever, com­plain that the fruits are too ex­pen­sive and are not worth the price,” Liu said. “It’s hard to ex­plain the brand story to their gen­er­a­tion, who ha­bit­u­ally econ­o­mize on ev­ery­thing.”

FU XINGHUA / FOR CHINA DAILY

The or­anges of for­mer “to­bacco king” Chu Shi­jian are very pop­u­lar and in high de­mand online.

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