20 March 2016

China's favorite retro cola makes comeback

Chinese cola brand Tianfu, the country's top-selling soft drink in the 1980s, formally returned to shop shelves on Thursday after being absent for nearly two decades.

The reincarnated cola, with the slogan "not just a familiar taste,"comes in bottles and cans.

"From the establishment of the brand to national popularity, to the disappearance after a joint venture (with Pepsi), the changes of Tianfu have coincided with twists and turns of my life," said Li Peiquan, 78, former general manger of Tianfu Cola, at the relaunch ceremony on Thursday in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing.

Tianfu still uses a traditional herbal recipe to produce the healthy drink, said Qian Huang, the new general manger. The goal for this year is to sell 200,000 tonnes.

"We are first aiming for the domestic market but interested parties from overseas already contacted us to take Tianfu Cola abroad," he said. "Chongqing, where the factory is, has railways stretching to Europe, so our cola could easily sell there," said Qian.

Other nostalgia products, including chocolate champagne, fruit juice and vegetable protein drinks, will also hit the market soon, he said.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Chongqing company had a strangle hold of 70 percent of China's soft drink market. The cola was also sold in Russia and America. In 1994, the company entered a joint venture with Pepsi, which was not successful. By 2005, Tianfu Cola's market share had plummeted to 1 percent.

Many other smaller soft drink brands suffered a similar fate as the country opened up economically in the 1980s and 1990s. Qian attributed the failure to cutting Tianfu production to make way for Pepsi.

In 2006, the company sold its stake in the joint venture to Pepsi, but Pepsi refused to return Tianfu's right of production.

In 2010, Tianfu took Pepsi to court accusing the US firm of stealing the secret recipe for its beverage. The court ordered Pepsi to return the formula and technical secrets, but rejected Tianfu's request for 1 million yuan ($150,000) compensation.

Tianfu regained its trademark in 2013 and started trial production in 2014.

"It is not only a familiar taste, but also a memory of childhood," said Xu Li, a loyal Tianfu Cola fan, present at the ceremony.