(Yicai Global) Nov. 20 -- Wang Lao Ji Great Health Industry, the maker of a popular Chinese herbal tea brand, opened its first overseas bricks-and-mortar store in New York yesterday, suggesting a focus on brand rather than just international trade expansion.
The store combines a themed museum and tea shop, with historical documents introducing herbal tea culture. Customers can sample the tea, Wang Lao Ji, also known as Wong Lo Kat, which is a well-liked drink in China's southern Guangdong province and its neighboring areas.
The Guangzhou-based company plans to set up 56 herbal tea museums worldwide, its Vice Party Secretary Qi Mi told Yicai Global. Herbal tea needs a lot of publicity in overseas markets, he said, adding that is why the New York store also includes a themed museum.
Herbal tea is a generic term for beverages made from traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with Guangdong's product a representative of herbal tea culture. Herbal tea is cooling in summer and can help with sore throats in winter.
Chinese herbal teas have struggled to quickly gain market share at home because younger people prefer other, newer products, forcing manufacturers to look overseas, according to Zhu Danpeng, a researcher at the China Brand Research Institute. But no Chinese beverage company has succeeded overseas.
"The beverage sector was quiet for a long time after Jian Li Bao Sports Drink's internationalization failed," Zhu said. "Herbal tea-based beverages have started new attempts in recent years."
Wang Lao Ji started its overseas expansion in 2015 by setting up sales networks. The network covers 60 countries and regions on five continents, with the US as its largest market outside the Chinese mainland. It has an annual export volume of tens of millions of yuan and maintains an annual growth rate of 30 percent, Mi said.
Wang Lao Ji has drawn a 10-year development plan. While strengthening the herbal tea sector, its major business, it will simultaneously make an overall plan for the area of botanical energy drinks to become a global industry leader.
"Chinese beverage companies need strong technical barriers -- their unique recipes -- to 'safeguard' their products overseas," brand expert Zhu added. "Most Chinese beverages have weak recipes, but herbal teas contain traditional Chinese medicinal products that are relatively strong."