Jinhua ham is dried in the sun in Zhejiang Province. Selling on Tmall has helped boost annual sales growth of China's classic brands such as Jinhua Ham. (Photo by Qian Xudong/For China Daily)
Wearing costumes to look like ancient Chinese, two live-streaming artistes, armed with a microphone headset each, chat with fans in a live sales promotion on Tmall, a Chinese online marketplace.
They are not peddling stuff like cosmetics, clothes, jewelry or some fashionable brand though. Instead, they promote a huge preserved pork leg.
That's what e-shopping plazas such as Tmall are doing these days: they help promote China's classic brands such as Jinhua Ham, a pork producer whose history dates back to Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).
During the live interaction, Jinhua Ham turns a hero in front of the camera. Such digital initiatives and e-commerce have become necessary for classic brands to reach young consumers.
About 600 such brands sell various commodities on Tmall. This has helped some of them to boost annual sales growth to nearly 80 percent, according to Tmall, a subsidiary of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Besides live-streaming, Tmall has exclusive channels for promotions. It has also set aside a fund to organize promotional events for time-honored Chinese brands, according to Tong Ying, who heads Tmall's rice and oil section.
The company said it aims to revitalize great brands of the past whose fame may have faded due to ravages of time or inability to adapt to changes in the marketplace.
For instance, Arctic Ocean, an 80-year-old beverage brand, announced its ice-cream that used to be sold in bags, sub-branded Daierlin, has returned to offline and online shops in May 2017, 20 years after it disappeared from the market.
Chen Lin, deputy general manager of Beijing Yiqing Food Group, producer of Daierlin, told Beijing News the ice cream sold out immediately after becoming available online.
Arctic Ocean also launched its new product, walnut groundnut drink, on Tmall in November last year, for the first time in 15 years.
The drink was expected to target women this winter as big data analysis showed that female consumers prefer such drinks, Tmall said.
The influence of old Chinese brands has been increasing since 2006. However, some failed to adapt to changes brought by the advent of apps and the inter-net. Stuck in their rigid old systems, and lacking innovative spirit, they have been languishing in the market.
But in January 2017, the Ministry of Commerce and 15 other departments announced a plan to revitalize and innovate time-tested Chinese brands.
The plan encouraged such brands to embrace the internet and expand their sales through e-commerce. And e-commerce platforms were advised to help promote their visibility and come up with customized services, so as to attract e-shoppers.
"Chinese commodities, services and brands of the past represent quality, the Chinese spirit and creation of China," said Ma Qiji, a media researcher at Peking University. "It's a necessary attempt to bring new life to those brands with digital methods."
Sanyuan, a Beijing-based milk and yogurt brand founded in 1956, cooperated with JD, another e-commerce giant, in 2015. Its sales grew three times in 2017, according to Shi Xiaolei, general manager of Sanyuan's e-commerce division.
A November 2017 report in the Economic Daily quoted Shi as saying that Sanyuan's sales in regions outside of Beijing have risen from 20 percent to 45 percent of the total.
As if to underscore such potential of e-commerce, Tmall has launched a campaign that online sales can help transform regional brands into national or even global brands. In response, even old foreign brands were attracted to the campaign.
Japanese shopping mall Isetan launched a one-month promotional program this month on Tmall to sell products of 12 old brands of Kyoto, including handmade braided ropes, paper fans and cushions, according to Tmall.
Similarly, wine brands such as French Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Haut-Brion and Margaux participated in massive sales promotions around China's Lunar New Year in February 2017, it said.