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Not “if” it – the likes of fruit juices

15 August 2009 1,738 views No Comment

BEIJING – Germans introduced Tsingtao (Qingdao) Beer to China in 1903, a brand that continues to thrive. Fast forward a century later and Identity Fruit, or “iF Juice,” is bringing fresh squeezed juice to Beijing. Founded in 2007 by two Germans, iF Juice prides itself on providing juices and smoothies made with no additives, preservatives, sugar or water. iF Juice has locations in the Central Business District, Sanlitun, and Chaoyang District. Co-owner Hans Au answered our questions about his business and doing business in the Middle Kingdom.

How did you get the idea to sell fresh juice in Beijing?

In 2005 I was pulling long hours as a lawyer and was starved for fresh, raw and whole food. Apart from a few sandwich shops there was nothing like a juice bar around where I worked. The few isolated juice bars across town were serving sugary juices banged together with cheap ingredients. At that time I did not find time to juice myself or to explain to the house maid how to juice properly, with many ingredients like red beets being unfamiliar to Chinese. I then also realized how the bulk of Chinese restaurants were using too much oil and condiments to increase customer turnover through high speed cooking and frying. It just seemed logical to supply a completely fresh and natural juice with no chemicals or sugars inside because the Chinese worship fresh food and natural health sources. By delivering delicious and nutritious fresh juices to offices and homes we have now created a situation which is exactly the answer to my craving back then in 2005.

Organic food is becoming increasingly popular in China. Are you seeing any demographic shifts in your clientele?

There is no wide recognition of organic with Chinese consumers yet. This is partly due to higher prices for organic produce, but also because of confusing labeling practices, false claims and shoddy products in the food industry. Lack of trust is the number one barrier to build a successful food business in China.

What’s your favorite juice?

That has to be our apple raspberry juice! Nice and tangy. But I also love simple orange juice, with a lot of pulp in it. By the way, not easy to do in a consistent quality every single day.

Where do you source the fruits you use in your products?

We source some fruit from Taiwan, South Africa, Israel, New Zealand and the USA, but China is our main source, because almost all climate zones exist here. But it is not as though you are dealing with huge areas that are potential supply zones. We try to focus on larger suppliers where we can implement our supplier auditing and only a few really qualify. So its really more like a few needles in the big haystack China.

You’re from Germany and brought the idea of fruit juice to China. What Chinese product or service do you think would be successful in Germany?

I could think of traditional Chinese medicine, health and wellness services and products could fly. But here is where Chinese brands would need to be open to western marketing, product placing and sales techniques. An open-kitchen premium Chinese restaurant, positioned as a spectacular dining experience with performing artists, etc., could be interesting. I also think there is room for specialized China travel, investment and business services.

What do you think business schools should teach more of, or less of?

I never went to business school. Everything I know about business is self-taught or learned from mentors. What I discovered is that some aspects of business are more akin to arts than sciences. So maybe it is worthwhile to think of ways how to combine more liberal arts subjects with a business curriculum. Generally I think business schools should address the question of why we do business, the philosophy of business if you like. Business is a function of creating value for society. But money does not equal to value, so here is where more guidance and tools need to be provided by business schools.

What advice would you offer to an entrepreneur who wants to start a business in China?

I could really write a book on this! As an entrepreneur in China you need an extra dose of stamina, patience and the ability to let go of your accustomed ways of thinking and doing things. There are limited support systems or networks for entrepreneurs because the traditional Chinese way of entrepreneurship is to only rely on family or people from your village. So find other ways to get the help you need. In terms of management you really need to pay attention to team building, especially training, and retention. Good people are very rare in China. Don’t be too loose on sales, as there are myriad local ways of getting the job done and there are hidden costs. The Chinese economy is not a highly organized work-share environment where you can easily outsource. So watch out heavily for quality issues and manage suppliers well. Forget marketing and design, it’s not their cup of tea. The zeitgeist in China is to acquire wealth and status as fast as possible, so cutting corners is frequent! All that said, you will find that it can be a very rewarding personal experience. I guarantee you, you will never feel bored.

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