Wahaha livestream sales surge 500% following death of founder

Chinese beverage giant Wahaha lost its billionaire founder, chairman and CEO Zong Qinghou on 25 February. Fast forward a week, the brand released a statement on its online flagship on Douyin thanking everyone for their support and urging users to shop rationally, while delisting all merchandise on the platform (later relisted). Between 25 February and 1 March, the sales of the channel grew explosively, and the sales number on 28 Feb increased 500% compared to the day before. The livestream channel also gained 2 million followers in 7 days.

This happened despite the brand pausing all livestreams since the passing of Zong, and the first livestream after the social commerce channel restarted on 4 March raked in over 1 million RMB (138,953 USD) within an hour. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent, the topic “Wahaha official store sales increased 500% in 2 days” (#娃哈哈官方店铺销量2天涨超500%#) reached number 19 on the Hot Search list with 51.22 million views.

Coinciding with the enthusiasm online, news outlets found that in cities like Hangzhou, home to both the tycoon and his empire, Mianyang, alongside others, Wahaha products began to sell out after Zong’s death. Reports started to pop up, such as a delivery driver seeing the most Wahaha products in one package in their 7-year career or shops informing customers that the lead time for Wahaha’s purified water, released in 1996, was 1 month. Another star product the Vitamin AD Calcium Milk, also launched in 1996, was sold out at many shops, and sales increased 100% at one supermarket in Hangzhou.

These tributes are, of course, testaments to the popularity of the beloved brand and its founder. However, it is a show of nostalgia from netizens. Since many online consumers belong to the younger generations of millennials and Gen Z, they grew up with Wahaha’s soft drinks and water. The brand, founded in 1987, has been a staple of many families throughout the 1990s and 2000s, so Wahaha has become synonymous with childhood indulgence before they were flooded with choices.

However, Wahaha still faces challenges as Zong’s daughter Kelly takes over from her father. Already made managing director and vice president in 2021, Kelly Zong has been at the forefront of modernising the 37-year-old corporation by introducing new products and changing brand ambassadors. However, none of the new products have become the next purified water or AD Calcium Milk, and the brand also struggles with e-commerce. Commentators and investors are watching intently to see whether Zong’s heir can make the surge of followers stick and advance the empire she has inherited.


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