China Consumer

Bars with booze

A growing market for liquor-laced ice cream


Sweet approach for baijiu brand

A ‘blackout’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a temporary loss of consciousness”. It might seem like a strange choice of name for a brand of ice cream bar. But in this particular case it seems rather more appropriate: a variety made with baijiu, a favourite Chinese liquor, with a tendency to stupify its heavier drinkers.

The ice cream brand Blackout was launched to local fanfare in the summer of 2019 in a partnership between Chicecream and baijiu maker Luzhou Laojiao. And it has been trending again on social media thanks to a series of special offers, triggered in part by growing competition in China’s alcohol-infused ice cream market.

The pale yellow ice cream boasts 52% baijiu content, meaning that it is off-limits to under-18s. In other words of warning its advertising alerts customers that they should not be driving after consuming a single bar, because of its intoxicating impact.

For Luzhou Laojiao, the baijiu maker, the ice cream bar has proven a good way of getting some media attention and so it rebooted its collaboration with Chicecream last month with a promotion announced on its Sina Weibo account. “Ice, sugar, a little Luzhou Laojiao, and we’ve created the Luzhou Laojiao X Chicecream’s baijiu Blackout ice cream…” it crowed.

From Sichuan, Luzhou Laojiao lays claim to an ancient brewing technique that was perfected during the Ming Dynasty.

Today the company generates Rmb15.8 billion ($2.32 billion) in sales, including side businesses that manage hotels, make glass and invests in real estate.

Chicecream is a much newer company backed by venture capital money. Founded in 2018, it has 1.6 million fans on its Tmall store and it has sold 17 million ice cream bars so far this year.

The Chinese ice cream market is the world’s biggest with 1.23 million tonnes of the stuff made in 2018. Spending on the frozen product reached Rmb139 billion last year.

There have been several other collaborations between alcohol and dairy companies and Chicecream has worked with international spirits firm Martell this summer to develop a cognac-infused treat called Degree. Jiang Xiaobai and Mengniu Dairy have also released a baijiu chocolate ice cream called Change.

The trend for alcohol-infused brands is not confined to China. In April Haagen-Daaz released two new ice cream flavours: Whiskey Hazlenut Latte; and Rosé and Cream. America’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream also offers spirited treats such as Hot Toddy Sorbet and Middle West Whiskey. Tipsy Scoop, another American brand, adds alcohol to all of its products. Flavours include the intriguingly named Maple Bacon Bourbon and Cake Batter Vodka Martini.

Other more traditional Chinese desserts have been through the boozing-up process too. In anticipation of last week’s Mid-Autumn Festival, mooncakes spiced up with alcohol were also on sale. Not surprisingly Luzhou Laojiao got in on the act here as well, this time working with Sichuan Aidale Food to design a mooncake called the Alcoholic Fragrant Five-Nut Imperial Cake (or rather more prosaically, a cake sprinkled with nuts infused with baijiu).

A contributor on Jiemian, a news portal, tried to explain some of the popularity of these new hybrid products. “Food that includes lower levels of alcohol offers the thrill of what drinking can provide while still being low-risk, which appeals to younger consumers who are more attentive to their health. Moreover, this kind of product is promoted through ‘hunger marketing’, cross-brand collaborations, and social media sharing. Altogether the strategy attracts young customers and increases product sales and exposure.”

Sure enough, the Blackout bar has received some intoxicating feedback. “Normally I don’t drink baijiu because I think it tastes really bad, but this ice cream has the light sweetness of pineapple and milk added with the baijiu. I never guessed the combination would be so delicious,” applauded one reviewer in a video posted on her personal weibo account.

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