A great travel story on the Yellow River related to “All about the beer market in China – the world’s largest”. China Rising Radio Sinoland 240527




Pictured above: Kingway and Budweiser in China. I think the CEOs of each company know the national beer market.

Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff








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Jeff J. Brown: Hello everybody. This is a fun post about Chinese beer. When I was writing my first book of the China Trilogy: 44 Days Backpacking in China (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/06/30/praise-for-the-china-trilogy-the-votes-are-in-it-r-o-c-k-s-what-are-you-waiting-for/ and https://www.amazon.com/stores/author/B00TX0TDDI/allbooks), I have a wonderful story in there when I was in Ningxia where the Yellow River runs through and there was a raft ride, and the raft was just big enough. I mean, literally just big enough for four adults to sit on with your knees scrunched up like this on a platform of bamboo tied together. And then what creates the flotation is four sheep skins that have been sewn together and sealed with some kind of lacquer or something like that and blown up.

So, in fact, there’s a picture in my book in 44 days. It shows a guy lifting one of these rafts to put into the river and there you can see the two arms, the two legs, and the neck of the whole-body sheepskin that’s been blown up. So, we were floating down the river. Of course, I’m the only non-Chinese on this tiny raft. So, a very engaging not really too old guy, probably, he was maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. He had a camera with a lens about this big, just as nice as to be in his down-to-earth as could be, and just a friendly guy. Of course, we were speaking in Chinese, and I always wanted to know what people do.

And so, I said, well, what do you do? He said, well, I’m the CEO of Snowflake Beer. And I was like, My God, the CEO of Snowflake Beer. For those of you who don’t know, Snowflake Beer is the world’s largest-selling beer. It’s bigger than Budweiser. It’s bigger than Heineken. It’s bigger than anything. But it’s all a national market. And it’s just a good old-fashioned lager. And I always buy it when I see it. And you know, China is actually an incredibly important beer market, the world’s largest. The consumption is only 23 liters per capita per year. But when you multiply that by 1.4 billion people, that’s a lot of frickin beer.

And it’s in the middle range the Germans and the Czechs and the Scandinavians drink twice, twice as much and some drink less. So, China is in the middle of 180-something countries that track beer consumption. But given the number of people, it’s enormous. In China, you go into any restaurant 90% of the restaurants whether it’s fancy or simple and local, they’ve got a beer cooler or well, a beverage cooler also with soft drinks and tea, etc. So anyway, when we got back here in China in 2010, of course, we lived here from 1990 to 1997. And back then there was Qingdao that’s another big one.

But it’s not as big as a Snowflake, not only in the country but also internationally. But there was Qingdao and then there was Beijing and Yanjing and  we would go down to Guangzhou and Shanghai. There were some beer brands there. And they’re all based on either the province or the city. Of course, Yanjing used to be an ancient name for Beijing and of course, it means the bird, the swallow bird you know, that builds the mud nest and Yanjing “Swallow Capital”. Jing means capital. And so, when we came back in 2010, it was unbelievable how much the beer market had developed.

The one thing that really caught my eye was all of a sudden, Budweiser was everywhere we went in China. It was just everywhere. And I even have a can here. I apologize, it’s a little crumpled up. My samples have been drunk of course, so the empties were in my suitcase. We’ve been to a couple of three cities since then, and so it’s they’re kind of crumpled up, but it’s exactly the same can except of course, and they keep their label exactly, just like Heineken. I even bought a Heineken to show you. They keep their label the exact same as they do all over the world.

But of course, being in China, they do have to have the product information and the product name. And there it is on the side and you know, the company, and its vertical, and Budweiser’s brewery is in Wuhan. You know, the famous place where the United States released the Covid virus during the Military World Games in October of 2019. I’ve written all about it (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2020/03/07/its-all-here-the-china-rising-radio-sinoland-covid-19-chemical-and-bioweapon-file-film-and-tape-library/). But it’s a wonderful place to have a brewery because Wuhan is like the crossroads between East and West. It’s between Shanghai and Chengdu along the Yangtze River, and it’s between Beijing and Guangzhou, Hong Kong to the north and south.

So, it’s a really great place to have a brewery. Its name is the two characters Bei Wei, so Bei means 100 and Wei means power or strength. So, they have a sort of homophonic name Bei Wei, like Budweiser. So, there you go. And so anyway, it was everywhere. And I was really impressed because I’ve worked in the food industry and of course, logistics and distribution centers are so important in the food business. I built, opened, and managed the first McDonald’s bakery in Mainland China from 1994 to 1997. And so, I understand logistics and distribution centers.

And I was really, really impressed with the way Budweiser I don’t know what they you know, they obviously hired some really good people here in China who understood the supply chain and logistics around the country.  And it was everywhere. And Budweiser is more expensive. I mean, they’re not trying to compete on price. I mean, they call it a premium beer and they charge a premium price for it. Sometimes it depends it’s 20, 30, 40, and sometimes 50% more than the Chinese beers. And by the way, all Chinese beers are low alcohol. You know, even Budweiser. You know, we’re talking 3%, 3.2, 3.4.

You know, you’ll get a few that are 3.6, 3.8. Most of them they’re very few of them are over 4%. So, they are a low-alcohol beer. And I was thinking about Snowflake and my CEO buddy on the raft on the Yellow River. We went into a restaurant here during this trip. You know, I just spent the month of May all over Guangdong Province, Canton Province in China. And now, of course, now we’re in Taiwan. And anyway, I saw this beer called Kingway. And what attracted my attention was that it uses the same character as Budweiser. So, instead of Bei Wei, it’s Jīn Wēi, which Jīn means gold. So, it’s gold power.

And so, I thought that’s really interesting. So, I bought a can of it and of course, I looked at it. And guess who makes this beer? Snowflake! That great. So, I think that that very smart obviously very successful CEO who runs Snowflake beer. You know, when you’re the biggest beer seller in the world, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. So, I think what he did is, is he came out with another sub-brand and with the Chinese Wei character. You know. So, I’ll see if I can show you. Can you all see it? You can see the way. Hang on. Here we go. The way is in. How do I? Everything’s backwards. The way you can see the way in the two characters in there.

They’re both the second below on Budweiser and the second from the left for Kingway. So, I think what he did is, is I think he came out with his, of course, as you know, occupying shelf space is a big deal. To crowd out the competition. But I think he did this to have a beer that had a similar name as Budweiser to go head-to-head with Budweiser, which I think is pretty funny. I don’t know why he calls it Kingway, Jīn Wēi you know, Jīn Wēi, Goldway. So, he calls it Kingway in English.

Another reason that Snowflake might have called Kingway is because Budweiser is the King of Beers. That’s their big motto. So, it’s also maybe a way to go head-to-head using King and the King of Beers. And by the way, beer in China is really cheap. I mean, a 500-milliliter can only cost like 4 or 5 RMB, we’re talking 60, 75 US cents for a 500-milliliter can. So, I already showed you Heineken. Heineken doesn’t have the logistics and supply chain that Budweiser has. And again, Budweiser must have spent millions and millions and millions of the equivalence in dollars and euros to get their supply chain going national because it is everywhere. And of course, they probably lost money for several years.

But when you’ve got 23 liters times 1.4 billion, that’s a lot of beer. So, Budweiser went after it and probably paid a pretty penny. But I’m sure they’re making money now. Heineken is popular, but it’s not as they have not done as good a job on supply chain and logistics as Budweiser. And then I kept seeing and again, I apologize. These are kind of crumpled up. I kept seeing this one Blue Girl and I was sitting there going, Blue Girl, what in the heck is this? And it’s like they’re it’s being pilsner lager beer so it’s like a European style beer, although it is lower, it’s not 5-6% like European beer is.

But it does say it’s famous, clean, and refreshing. Taste originates from a 100-year German brewing tradition. And so, I’m looking at this and again I always look at the Chinese and I’m reading Chinese. Guess who brews Blue Girl: Budweiser! So, Budweiser has a sub-brand now to go after to again take up shelf space, and as long as you’ve got the supply chain and logistics, why not? So, Snowflake has Kingway and Budweiser has Blue Girl. And that’s why you always see these beers together. You know, everywhere you go, Budweiser and Blue Girl are together and Snowflake and Kingway are together.

So, it’s really kind of funny. And then there’s one more that’s really interesting. And again, they may have just made this. I mean, I don’t know if Blue Girl is actually a German beer or not, but they talk about German tradition. It’s a pretty good beer. Again, it’s a Budweiser-premium-priced beer. And then the other one that’s amazing for Americans is Pabst Blue Ribbon. I mean, Milwaukee, Wisconsin I mean, this beer this is like the blue-collar beer that was out for I don’t know how long. I don’t even know if it’s still even being brewed in the United States.

They call it in Chinese they say lán dài. Lán Dài which means blue belt. And they’re a little bit different. They have their logo, but they’ve actually mixed the Chinese on the front label. And they call it the Little Blue King. I don’t know who owns it. It’s actually Pabst Blue Ribbon Guangzhou, China which is right across the river near the border of Hong Kong. Now, whether it’s a Chinese family that bought the label and the brewing rights, I don’t know. Do Budweiser and Snowflake have any ownership in Pabst Blue Ribbon?

I have no idea and I’ll put a picture in the article. We were having noodles and all of a sudden, I was looking at the table and there were these two little round things on the table with Pabst Blue Ribbon, and they were toothpick dispensers. What was really interesting was that it was for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, but it had a star on one side, like it was in a camouflage color military camp. These were in military camouflage colors. So, they want the red star of the People’s Liberation Army. But it had a star like a military star.

That you would see on an airplane or something like that, and then you turned around the toothpick dispensers around and it talked about Pabst Blue Ribbon “award-winning military beer”. So, it could be then that Pabst Blue Ribbon has found a niche market with the Chinese military and of course with patriotism and everything else. It’s probably a unique selling point and maybe when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army gets off work, they drink a Pabst instead of a Snowflake or a Budweiser. I have no idea. Anyway, just having fun. And we just got here in Taiwan. Guess what’s the beer here type? Taiwan Beer. That’s obviously the national beer here. I really haven’t seen any other national brand.

Above: Pabst Blue Ribbon toothpick dispensers with a People’s Liberation Army motif.

They’ve only got 20 million people who still live here, a million Taiwanese live and work on the Mainland, which is 5% of their population. So, I’m sure that’s probably about all this market can handle with only 20 million people. It’s also twice as expensive as the beer on Mainland China. It’s not a bad beer. And anyway, I thought it’d be fun to have a nice post about culture and drinking alcohol, etc. So, here are two of my favorite beers. Wait, wait. I don’t have a Snowflake. I’m sorry. I don’t have a Snowflake. So, anyway, Budweiser and Kingway, have a good one. Bye-bye.



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JEFF J. BROWN, Editor, China Rising, and Senior Editor & China Correspondent, Dispatch from Beijing, The Greanville Post

Jeff J. Brown is a geopolitical analyst, journalist, lecturer and the author of The China Trilogy. It consists of 44 Days Backpacking in China – The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass (2013); Punto Press released China Rising – Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations (2016); and BIG Red Book on China (2020). As well, he published a textbook, Doctor WriteRead’s Treasure Trove to Great English (2015). Jeff is a Senior Editor & China Correspondent for The Greanville Post, where he keeps a column, Dispatch from Beijing and is a Global Opinion Leader at 21st Century. He also writes a column for The Saker, called the Moscow-Beijing Express. Jeff writes, interviews and podcasts on his own program, China Rising Radio Sinoland, which is also available on YouTubeStitcher Radio, iTunes, Ivoox and RUvid. Guests have included Ramsey Clark, James Bradley, Moti Nissani, Godfree Roberts, Hiroyuki Hamada, The Saker and many others. [/su_spoiler]

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