China Consumer

Guizhou gelato

Moutai unveils its new liquor-infused ice cream


An alcohol-laced summer treat

Of the world’s culinary oddities, the deep-fried Mars bar must feature high on the list.

The Carron Fish Bar in Stonehaven (on Scotland’s northeast coast) proudly claims to have invented it after plunging the first chocolate bar into a tub of boiling cooking oil in 1995.

It’s not clear what inspired the idea for such a strange snack but it subsequently caught on and is now offered as a ‘delicacy’ in innumerable Scottish chippies.

Joining the list of odd combinations – although this one was probably a little more predictable, WiC reckons – is an intoxicating addition to the Chinese ice cream market.

Iconic baijiu brand Kweichow Moutai has ‘crossed worlds’, in the words of Chinese netizens, to collaborate with Mengniu Dairy to produce Moutai Ice Cream. The ice cream, which debuted with the opening of Moutai’s first ice cream shop on May 19, comes in milk, vanilla and tiramisu flavours. The alcohol content is 3% and servings cost Rmb39 ($5.83) each.

At the end of May, the new range also became available as a prepackaged product in Guiyang, the capital city of Moutai’s home province of Guizhou. With another new flavour on offer – plum – the company sold over 40,000 servings through its mobile app iMaotai within the first hour of the brand’s launch.

The move into ice cream by Kweichow Moutai – which has a market value of Rmb2.2 trillion, making it the world’s most valuable food and beverage stock – targets a younger, trend-driven demographic. The company’s baijiu is China’s most prestigious alcoholic drink but it is more traditionally the preserve of older and wealthier consumers. The ice cream spin-off gives people an introduction to the same brand in a different format and at a more affordable price.

According to China Daily, beverage analysts have been flagging concerns over future sales of baijiu for a while: especially that Generation Zs and in particular younger female consumers are indifferent to Moutai’s traditional appeal.

Ice cream is viewed as a smart way to promote the brand to trendier taste buds. China is also the world’s biggest ice cream market, producing 2.21 million tonnes in 2021. Women constitute 70% of purchasers online, says the China Ice Cream Industry Trend Report.

The launch sparked lively discussion across social media, much of it centred on the key question of ‘Will Moutai ice cream get you drunk?’ Moutai responded that, due to its alcohol content, the ice cream should be avoided by children and pregnant women, and that drivers should be cautious about spooning down too much of the treat.

Netizens on the Zhihu Q&A platform also claimed that – in launching its own ice cream – Moutai risked sacrificing its long-held reputation for higher-end luxury by heading downmarket into a less ‘dignified’ product category.

But other contributors in Zhihu disagreed, recognising how companies are always searching for ways of tapping into new trends for sales growth or simply to cause a stir online. Certainly, stories about the new ice cream were already bringing publicity for the parent company and its products, they noted.

The bigger challenge for Moutai is the level of competition in China’s ice cream business. According to data from the Prospective Market Research Institute, foreign brands like Haagen-Dazs have grabbed much of the higher and middle end of the market. A stream of ‘internet sensation’ ice cream varieties have also emerged in inventive flavours and styles – making it harder for Moutai’s offering to stand out in the marketplace, which already hosts a number of alcohol-infused choices.

WiC readers may recall that baijiu producer Luzhou Laojiao partnered with Chicecream to launch the feistily named brand Blackout in the summer of 2019, for instance. This version of baijiu-infused ice cream tried to live up to its provocative name by promising 52% alcohol content per bar. Off-limits to the under-18s, some of the feedback was still positive. “Normally I don’t drink baijiu because I think it tastes really bad but this ice cream has the sweetness of pineapple and milk added to the baijiu. I never guessed the combination would be so delicious,” applauded one reviewer in a video posted on her personal weibo account.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.