Minnie Wang
Sep 8, 2023

Moutai meets Luckin: A sip of surprise and a formula for viral success?

Baijiu-infused lattes are taking China by storm this week. Whether it's a match made in heaven or a risky bet, only time will tell, but one thing is certain—'Moutai Latte' is the talk of the town, with over 100 million yuan in revenue on day one.

Photo: Weibo/Luckin Coffee
Photo: Weibo/Luckin Coffee

In a sensational fusion of flavors, Kweichow Moutai, China's reigning liquor and spirits juggernaut, has joined forces with Luckin Coffee, a brand that once grappled with accounting scandals but managed to make a rebound with a splash. The result? An instant hit that's got China buzzing.

Called the ‘sauce-flavoured latte’ or affectionately the ‘Moutai latte,’ the 38 yuan ($5.20) jolt of liquor has sparked countless conversations on Chinese Weibo. The response has been staggering, millions of intrigued viewers are diving into discussions since the brew's debut on Monday.

Luckin Coffee announced on Chinese social media that it has already sold over 5.42 million cups of Moutai alcohol-infused lattes since its launch on Monday, and single-day revenues have surpassed 100 million yuan ($13.69 million). Given the unprecedented popularity, it’s no surprise that the drink ran out in some local stores. Luckin issued a statement on Thursday informing patrons that the brand is in the process of procuring more liquor from Moutai and aims to have the coveted concoctions restocked by September 10th in some stores and September 19 in the rest. 

Hashtags "soy sauce latte," "Luckin" and "Moutai" have been trending on both Weibo and Xiaohongshu. "Soy sauce latte" has already generated over 86.48 million views on Weibo within 24 hours.

The unique collaboration has grabbed the attention of global media outlets. Curious Chinese netizens had some some eyebrow-raising queries, including the all-important, “Can we drive a car after drinking that Moutai coffee?”. The query has accumulated over 640 million views on Weibo. Both the brands delivered the answer via a video, that revealed this drink's alcohol by volume (ABV) hovers at a mere 0.5%, ensuring it's perfectly safe for responsible sipping. 

The baijiu or spirit from Moutai typically contains 53% alcohol and could cost over 3000 RMB (or 410 USD), a bottle of 500ml according to the price on Tmall. While Luckin Coffee’s “Moutai latte” costs 38 RMB (US$5.2), with 50% off for online orders on Monday. 

In a bid to tap into the younger demographic, Ogilvy's Taipei and Xiamen teams crafted a series of social videos celebrating the groundbreaking collaboration. From Gen Z to people who rarely drink coffee, all can be seen raising their cups to toast the partnership.

It is not the first attempt that Moutai is targeting a younger generation of audience. Back in 2021, the brand released a rap video and created a social media sensation. In 2022, Moutai co-branded with Mengniu and began to sell Moutai ice cream in China, which was thought to be a move into the F&B sector by the liquor brand, though the 66 RMB (US$9) ice cream is not selling well as discussed on Weibo

Notably, Moutai isn't the sole high-end brand targeting China's youthful tastes. Campaign reported earlier in the year about Fendi x Heytea and Louis Vuitton x Manner collaborations that explored similar avenues. But Luckin's collaboration doesn't just sell luxe bags to Gen-Z but introduces Gen-Z a sip of Moutai, and the older generations a fine cuppa Joe, aligning with the “sliver economy” concept.  

Luckin Coffee has made at least 12 collaborations this year based on a topic shared by netizens on Weibo. The brand quickly recovered from its accounting scandal since last year’s endorsement from Eileen Gu during the Winter Olympics. As of the second quarter of 2023, Luckin Coffee’s quarterly sales in China surpassed Starbucks, operating over 10,000 stores in the Mainland market.

However, not everyone is raising their cups to the partnership. Some key opinion consumers (KOCs) from Chinese self-media argue that whilst Luckin reaps the reward, Moutai risks diluting its high-end image.  

Campaign asked branding experts in China how they view this collaboration: a perfect match or a crisis case?

Nicky Wang, CEO of We Red Bridge in China, summed up the campaign's results, "Instant salestick. Entertainment valuetick. Long-term benefits to either brandsunlikely."

However, Linda Yu, general manager from Red Ant Asia, "absolutely hates it."

She elaborates: "It's successful in some wayreach, for example, yes. But it's too directly designed for viral effect instead of putting some thought for the consumers. Looks desperate to me.

"Baijiu flavour doesn't go with coffee, no doubt about that. No one buys that drink intrigued by the taste, they buy to show off or to follow social trends. It shows how opinionless people can be and how creatives are lacking. Just before Luckin, local coffee brand Manner launched Highball in collaboration with JimBean, That's far more interesting and cool, I think."

Yu appreciates campaigns "when companies try to upgrade our lifestyle, vs. just trying to sell us stuff."

Eunice Wong, chief brand consultant of Wowwowtank, thinks this is a win-win collaboration for both brands.

She adds: “The cross-over of Luckin Coffee and Moutai, no doubt, is a very creative product with tremendous PR buzz for both brands."

"Coffee customers are flattered by the taste of the very expensive Moutai, which, in turn elevates the brand status. Some may argue baijiu’s targets will not be moved by a mass coffee, while I see it as a seed for the future by embracing a broad range of targets and opening a new door for B2B sales without cannibalising or offending the current customers. So, why not?”

Nikita Mishra has made contributions to this article.

Campaign Asia

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