In the summer of 1997, Zhang Hongchao, armed with a meager capital of RMB 3,000 (USD 460), embarked on a journey that would lead to the creation of Mixue Bingcheng, a global chain of fresh ice cream and tea stores. Zhang Hongchao, together with his younger brother Zhang Hongfu, evolved from running a roadside ice stall in Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million people, to commanding a business empire with over 18,000 stores across China and Southeast Asia.
The early struggles and strategic expansion of Mixue Bingcheng
In the late 90s, Zhang Hongchao pivoted from a series of unsuccessful entrepreneurial ventures to re-establish his cold drink business, Mixue Bingcheng, in rapidly developing Zhengzhou. He tailored the business to the emerging urban demands, offering a diverse menu that resonated with locals and secured Mixue Bingcheng’s place in the city’s food and beverage scene.
1999 was a pivotal year when Zhang’s brother, Zhang Hongfu, joined the business. By introducing an affordable menu and situating outlets in underrepresented third- and fourth-tier cities, college students and young adults became a key customer segment of Mixue under the Zhang brothers’ management. Zhang Hongfu’s innovative menu additions further catered to evolving customer tastes, elevating Mixue Bingcheng as a go-to spot for a fusion of sweet and savory cravings.
Low prices, high volumes: A winning strategy
Mixue Bingcheng’s strategy was to offer affordable prices. A hamburger would cost RMB 3 (USD 0.42), French fries for RMB 1, and Yangzhou fried rice for RMB 2. By calculating the cost meticulously and adding a small gross profit margin, the brothers managed to turn a profit despite the low prices.
2006 marked a turning point when the brothers noticed a popular ice cream priced at RMB 18. They promptly developed a new ice cream for Mixue Bingcheng, priced at just RMB 1, which quickly became a hit item. This affordable ice cream brought an influx of customers, selling up to 5,000 units a day.
After operating as a sole proprietorship for a few years, the brothers reshaped Mixue Bingcheng into a partnership with two other shareholders in 2008, bringing in professional managers and rebranding with a new company logo. By 2010, Mixue Bingcheng had passed the first batch of franchising records with the Ministry of Commerce, leading to rapid growth in the number of stores.
In 2011, the partnership dissolved peacefully, leaving the Zhang brothers solely in charge of the business. The company began to expand, hitting a significant milestone in 2020 with over 18,000 stores worldwide, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Laos in Southeast Asia.
Mixue Bingcheng’s financing success
Mixue Bingcheng secured its first and only round of financing in 2021. Led by Meituan’s DragonBall Capital and Hillhouse Capital, the company raised over RMB 2 billion (USD 278.82 million), catapulting its valuation to RMB 20 billion. Rumors of a potential listing began to circulate shortly after, and Mixue Bingcheng is now poised for its debut on the stock market.
An insider within the venture capital community, intimately familiar with the investment process, shared with the investment community, “The competition this time was intense. Every firm dispatched its best teams in a bid to secure a stake in Mixue Bingcheng. Ultimately, institutions such as Hillhouse Capital, DragonBall Capital, and CPE managed to achieve their objectives.”
Mixue Bingcheng’s low-cost, high-expansion formula for public listing
Mixue Bingcheng is making strides towards going public, underpinned by its unique business approach. By keeping its products affordable, most of which are priced below RMB 10, Mixue’s offerings still resonate well with consumers, particularly among young customers and residents of third and fourth-tier cities.
The company’s expansion strategy is also notable. Operating mainly as a franchise, Mixue Bingcheng has demonstrated impressive speed in opening stores, outpacing direct-operation brands like Hey Tea. This expansion, fueled by its low-price strategy, has seen Mixue Bingcheng spread from Henan across the country, strategically establishing a dense network of stores.
In addition, the large scale operation has reduced raw material costs, with direct deliveries to franchise stores from the company’s numerous factories and warehouses. Interestingly, apart from franchise fees, Mixue Bingcheng also charges franchises for these raw materials, a major revenue stream for the company. The company’s revenue, rumored to be around RMB 6 billion (USD 836.5 million) in 2019 with a net profit of about RMB 800 million, might now have breached the RMB 10 billion mark.
Constant innovation and diverse offerings fuel global expansion
Mixue Bingcheng continues to innovate and test new product offerings. The same day it filed for its initial public offering, Mixue Bingcheng inaugurated its first “Snow King Castle Experience Store” in Zhengzhou. This flagship store launched not only a range of new beverages but also expanded its menu to include diverse items like deep-fried skewers, coconut milk stewed noodles, do-it-yourself cakes, coffee, and bakery items. The brand even introduced a unique ice cream featuring baked buns, a nod to Henan’s local delicacies.
Last year, Mixue Bingcheng’s CEO, Zhang Hongfu, released an open letter stating the company’s intention to venture into the budget-friendly coffee sector and develop a new brand named “Lucky Coffee.” In a bold declaration of their ambitions, he vowed to replicate the success of Mixue Bingcheng within a span of five years.
The story of Mixue Bingcheng stands as a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Zhang brothers, who managed to transform a humble roadside stall into a global franchising empire, expanding their reach to millions of customers worldwide.