Luckin x Maotai 2.0: a liquor chocolate for CNY

Key Takeaways:

  • Luckin Coffee has teamed up with Kweichow Moutai again for a Maotai-flavoured chocolate drink.
  • At the same time as the release, a Jackson Yee merch campaign and a Han Meilin-drawn packaging campaign were also launched.
  • The launch did not replicate the block-busting reaction on social media as interest cooled since the liquor latte last year.

On 22 January, Luckin Coffee officially released a liquor chocolate, its second collaboration with Kweichow Moutai, the maker of the iconic Maotai baijiu liquor. Like the liquor latte from 4 months ago, the new release came after a week of teasing. Starting as a rumour, the second collab between the leading Chinese coffee chain and the top baijiu liquor label was realised on 16 January when an “inside source” suggested that chocolate was among the materials. The official confirmation came on 19 January, 3 days before release.

On 22 January, a Monday release like Luckin’s first co-branded beverage, a coffeeless chocolate drink that can be enjoyed hot or cold was unveiled. “The first cup of the Year of the Dragon”, the new slogan says, indicating that this collaboration is also a Chinese New Year campaign. The regular pricing is 38 RMB (5.36 USD), but with a new product discount, one cup of liquor chocolate will set you back 18 RMB (2.54 USD).

A Multipronged campaign

The key difference compared to last time is that this is a CNY campaign. Indeed, Luckin seems to pack as many elements into the collaboration as possible. On the same day, the coffee chain announced two more collaborations that go hand in hand with the liquor chocolate.

Nearly two months after announcing superstar actor and singer Jackson of the idol group TFBoys as its global ambassador, Luckin has finally made the move to release Yee-related merch. This time, photo cards. One random card will come with a two-drink set containing certain drinks, including the liquor chocolate, while a three-drink set will earn you two cards. A Jackson Yee wheel calendar is being given away to people who purchase coffee vouchers. Instore onscreen ads and airport commercials featuring Yee will be available across China, while 150,000 WeChat Red Packet skins will also be released.

As a CNY campaign, the brand has continued the tradition from last year by collaborating with master artist Han Meilin, known for creating the Fuwa dolls for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A year after their Year of the Rabbit collaboration, Luckin and Han partnered again for a new Red Dragon latte and a series of coffee accessories including sleeves for coffee cups and paper bags with Year of the Dragon graphics. A panda-themed concept branch co-branded with Han Meilin has opened in Hangzhou, while more panda-decorated windows will be available at 50 stores across the country. From 29 January onwards, more CNY-themed merch will be available which will include red envelopes, stickers and a different graphic for sleeves and paper bags.

Second time’s not the charm?

The sales record of 5.42 million cups on the first day of the first collab is hard to reach this time

With 50.57 million views on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, the topic “Luckin Maotai collaborate again” (#瑞幸茅台再联名#) reached number 5 on the Hot Search list and remained on the list for 1.6 hours. However, it is meagre compared to last year’s top spot. The sales record of 5.42 million cups and revenue of 100 million RMB (14.11 million USD) on the first day of the first collab is also hard to reach this time around.

It has been reported that although Luckin branches had prepared for a hectic first day after the experience of the liquor latte launch, the response was not as hot as expected. Several media outlets interviewed staff of Luckin branches across the country, but it would seem the queues from the liquor latte launch are nowhere to be seen. One backup branch manager shared that although there are more customers than normal, many of them came for the Jackson Yee cards. On Weibo, the topic “Luckin Jackson Yee photocards” (#瑞幸易烊千玺小卡#) ranked number 6 on the Hot Search list with 52.76 million views, more than the Maotai hashtag.

The element of surprise, or lack thereof

In comparison, the topic “Why Maotai x Luckin collaboration isn’t hot anymore” (#茅台瑞幸联名为何不火了#) garnered 100 million views, reaching number 7 on the Hot Search list on Weibo. Analyses point out that the main reason for the new co-branding not reaching the same viral popularity of its predecessor is due to lack of scarcity and surprise.

The first collab was unconventional because of the premium brand positioning of Maotai and its older clientele, in contrast to Luckin’s lower price point and cosmopolitan young demographic. Also, the taste of baijiu plus coffee was hard to imagine and ignited curiosity from customers of both brands. The unconventional partnership is why the campaign was so memorable, according to a recent survey.

Maotai, at the time, decided to pause all collaborations lest the consumers feel fatigue

The flavour of the new chocolate drink is described as “just like wine-filled chocolate” which diminishes the mystery. What’s more, Maotai actually released a wine-filled chocolate with Dove just after the first Luckin co-branding. Kweichow Moutai, at the time, decided to pause all collaborations lest the consumers feel fatigue or they dilute the brand status as a luxury baijiu label. This is arguably what has happened with the latest Luckin co-branding.

In unrelated news, following up on Luckin’s partnership with the Australia Open, an AO-themed concept store opened its doors in Shanghai a day before the launch. On the launch day, Luckin also announced a Jackson Yee-led campaign for Luckin’s instant coffee. It would seem the pace of the campaigns have diluted the weight of the second Maotai team-up.

This second team-up signals that the Luckin–Kweichow Moutai partnership is for the long haul

Luckin had tried collaborating with the same brand/IP twice before, such as Han Meilin for CNY, Maltese/Line Puppy on both Valentine’s Day and Qixi, and with Tom and Jerry for the first anniversary of the cheese latte and Christmas. Analysis suggests that co-branding multiple times with the same brand or IP can help bring the collaboration cost down as the supply chain is already in place and consolidates the brand association with these IPs. Other pundits agree that this second team-up signals that the Luckin–Kweichow Moutai partnership is for the long haul.

For Kweichow Moutai, the “Maoxiaoling” project that includes the Luckin and Dove collaborations earned 430 million RMB (60.67 million USD) revenue in 2023 with a 58.24% year-on-year growth. Extending towards younger audiences has been successful for the winemaker, however, with consumer interest lukewarm with the latest chocolate drink, it might be in its interest to reconsider the pace of its co-branding campaigns.