五胡亂華 ──夏日冰品熱呼呼

:::

2002 / 8月

文‧林奇伯 圖‧林格立


「銼冰」是台灣的一大飲食文化,也是夏日冰品的正宗。沁涼軟綿的愛玉、清心消暑的仙草,都是老祖宗們的特殊發明。炎炎夏日來碗加了仙草、愛玉的晶瑩銼冰,再淋上蜜餞與濃濃焦糖水,真是快樂似神仙。無怪乎,台語有句俗諺:「第一做醫生,第二賣冰,第三開查某間(妓女戶)。」道出往日台灣社會最賺錢的三個行業。

冰品賺錢人人皆知,加上全球溫室效應讓夏天愈來愈長,經濟景氣也持續加溫,消費者猛一抬頭,今年台灣的冰品市場竟已成為人人都想競逐的行業。


談起今夏野火燎原般的冰品大戰,著名冰品連鎖店「冰冰蒟蒻」所屬「珍善美食品公司」總經理郭淨溢眼睛發亮,直道:「彷彿五胡亂華。」

郭淨溢不用「戰國時代」,卻稱「五胡亂華」,原因其來有自:除了因台北永康街「冰館」掀起的芒果冰熱潮風靡全國大街小巷,不管平日賣什麼冰的,現在也要加賣芒果冰才不算落伍;標榜港式「甜湯」的「許留山」帶進香港人冰品可以養生、美顏的新觀念;日本蒟蒻加台灣古早味甜湯的「冰冰蒟蒻」標榜冰品能當正餐吃,消暑又可減肥;電視劇知名製作人周遊的「阿姑的古早冰」、藝人許效舜的「福州伯酸溜溜」……等等,混合了本土與異國、傳統與現代的林林總總多口味冰品,教人不禁眼花撩亂。單單這兩年興起、常在媒體上曝光的大小冰品連鎖就至少十幾家!

根據香港冰品名店「許留山」所做的調查顯示,台灣是全亞洲地區最愛吃冰的國家!且看台北街頭便知其盛況。

走進台北知名飲食商圈永康街,會發現有兩個地方從早到晚門口人潮沒有斷過。一家是早已名聞中外的北方麵館「鼎泰豐」,另一家則是這幾年才竄起的冰品新貴「冰館」。

有趣的是,鼎泰豐不受季節影響,一年到頭大排長龍,而一向只具夏天市場的冰館,近兩年即使寒流襲人的隆冬也一樣得辛苦排隊。

打破冰品只能在夏天熱賣的迷思,夏天芒果冰、冬天草莓冰,都是冰館所創造出來的奇蹟。才短短兩三年,全國各地開始有各式以「冰館」為名的冰店跟風,甚至連招牌顏色都有樣學樣地用芒果黃,將「一窩蜂」的現象又發揮得淋漓盡致。

芒果冰傳奇

提起「芒果冰傳奇」,「冰館」老闆羅同邑謙虛地表示,他能夠竄起全都是憑運氣。

七年前,羅同邑心想,在台灣這樣的社會,年輕人要有所作為,除了投入半導體那樣的高科技產業,否則就得在傳統中尋找「可以突破」的行業。所以他在永康街找到一個三角窗的黃金店面賣起冰來。

一開始的冰品內容與傳統店面沒有兩樣,卻讓羅同邑連虧了三年,最後不得已決定將店面頂給別人。然而就在他收拾店面之際,有客人來吃冰。由於冰品的料都已經收掉,那天他剛好買了一袋芒果,於是便告訴客人,吃芒果冰可好?

沒想到這一吃,在完全沒做廣告的情況下,一個月內他就門庭若市,很快地,連之前賠的老本都賺回來了。

現在的永康街「冰館」一個假日可以湧入三千人次以上的顧客,其中日本觀光客占三分之一,價位則並不便宜。

一碗芒果冰要一百多塊,到底有何特殊之處?

羅同邑說,很簡單,第一要符合時令、要新鮮,第二酸甜度要均衡。

然而這兩個簡單的要訣卻不是那麼容易達到。新鮮的芒果必須一整天不斷地有人控制流量,不可多削,已經切開的水果放久了自然不好吃。而為了符合時令,還得留意南部芒果出產的狀況。如前陣子台南的第一批芒果產季已過,原先能夠銜接的屏東芒果又剛好晚了幾天。為了拿到最好的水果,那陣子羅同邑可真是焦頭爛額。

至於酸甜度的部分,羅同邑認為水果的好吃就在於它的果酸味,完全甜的芒果冰太膩,所以他在熬煮芒果冰的醬料時會特別留意不讓酸味流失。

冰鎮鎮的銼冰淋上新鮮芒果、醬汁、煉奶,爽口不膩,雖然一大盤,但客人總能一掃而光。

一般人會想,如果要賺大錢就得趁現在大開連鎖店,海海撈一票,況且外面滿坑滿谷的芒果冰店已讓冰館業績掉了百分之五,不大舉擴張豈不可惜?然而羅同邑的思維卻完全不同。他覺得自己的成功完全是靠運氣,所以格外珍惜。

「一旦有人吃一次覺得不好吃,這個客人就永遠流失了,」羅同邑說,他不認為一般加盟店「中央廚房」的做法可以完全達到他心目中的標準。所以他計劃嚴格篩選五到六家全國連鎖店,技術完全轉移,這樣就夠了。

「我寧願把心思花在研發更多的可口水果冰,」羅同邑說。

「舶來」芒果冰

羅同邑是非常的「老派思想」,但同樣標榜「芒果冰始祖」的「許留山」就採截然不同的策略,預計在二○○三年展店至一百家,迅速搶佔「台灣第一」的位置。

「許留山」一九五○年代在香港源朗街頭以龜苓膏、涼茶起家。目前在香港地區已擁有五十五家連鎖店。一九九三年開發的「鮮果西米撈」,就像台灣的芒果冰,一舉打響了名號。

許留山在八年前曾被引進台灣,但由於價格高昂、港式口味不為一般人所接受,反應不佳,沒多久即停止營業。此番再戰江湖,除了以許多香港反映熱烈的新產品為後盾外,台灣方面大財團的介入也是風風光光重新登場的主要原因。

許留山所採模式就像許多外籍連鎖店一樣,是「原版導入」,且一切店面採直營,以確保技術保密及品質掌控。

港式口味,連店面裝潢、冰品名稱都港味十足。在大紅色宮廷式的拱門內,菜單上秀出的是什麼「撈」、什麼「爽」,很難看懂,問了服務人員才會知道,原來「撈」是「西米露」的香港譯音,「爽」則為香港人對凍類食品的稱呼。一時間,撈啊,爽的,很有異國情調,也頗引人食慾。

許留山特別標榜的是港式甜湯,重養生,以高貴中藥材燕窩、雪蛤、紅蓮等熬煮,並混入各類西米露、水果之中,製造變化。產品可分為四大類,第一類芒果撈B是一種「料理化」的冰品,做法也最炫人耳目。

芒果撈B的做法是將芒果原汁倒入零下十八度的炒冰機中。店員必須控制時間、力道、手勁,炒出來的撈才不會結霜或太糊,有清爽的綿綿口感。「撈」炒好後裝盤,再佐以鮮果,就是一道豪邁、華麗的冰品。

爽類冰品則是將果凍、水果糊、果粒、西米露混在同一個透明杯內,以吸管吸食。當杯內冰品入口時,混合不同口感與味道的清涼感在口腔內散開,第一次吃的人無不驚艷。西米撈、燉品與一般做法類似,只是加上排列組合的變化。

WTO水果前哨戰

芒果冰在「冰館」與「許留山」都挑大樑,但口味卻大相逕庭。「冰館」強調甜中帶酸,「許留山」則採港式的一逕甜到底。

許留山拓展部經理黃琳軒表示:「和其他店家一樣,夏天我們也是用台灣的芒果,但不同的是我們要求甜度一定要夠,」她說,等冬天一到,他們將直接引進東南亞的芒果,而那裡的芒果甜度更高。

由「冰館」與「許留山」引領風騷的芒果冰風潮,讓也即將與元祖食品合作廣開連鎖的「清宮御廚」老闆陳玉山形容,根本不像冰品大戰,簡直就是台灣加入WTO後開放水果進口的「水果前哨戰」。

確實,近日興起的Juice 8、果留香、飛來發等連鎖,其實都是將水果做各種不同的處理。各家冰店的另一個共同特色即是價錢都不便宜,平均一盤芒果冰都要近百或上百元。有人不禁憂心,芒果冰會不會像之前盛極一時的葡式蛋塔,轉眼「灰飛湮滅」?

「冰館」老闆羅同邑卻不擔心,他說,冰店爭先恐後的情況,還不至於使芒果冰像葡式蛋塔一樣被整垮,因為水果與冰的需求在台灣是一直存在的,但他渴望明年將回穩,且店家們會有各種新式口味出現,建立各自的風格,而非一味跟風。

創新的本土「冰種」

芒果冰熱潮中的一個有趣現象是,一向喜歡投資飲食業的台灣演藝界也紛紛加入戰局,但走的卻是傳統口味。如白冰冰與大信唱片公司陳維祥合開的「冰冰蒟蒻」、製作人周遊的「阿姑的古早冰」、許效舜的「福州伯酸溜溜」都走傳統冰品現代化經營的路線。而其中在八年前經營「許留山」失敗、去年以「冰冰蒟蒻」捲土重來的陳維祥最受矚目。

「八年前引進『許留山』的經驗,讓董事長陳維祥得到許多寶貴的啟示,」「冰冰蒟蒻」總經理郭淨溢表示,台灣是個有深厚銼冰文化的地方,外來的「冰種」或許一開始能引起消費者的好奇心前來試試,但高價位卻是一道想長久經營必須跨越的高牆。

「冰品在台灣人的心目中是日常食品,所以低價位、符合鄉土口味再加以變化,會是大型冰品連鎖經營的長久之計,」郭淨溢認為,「冰冰蒟蒻」便採低價位薄利多銷,並請來股東之一的藝人白冰冰當代言人,去年一推出即引起轟動。

賣冰在台灣所以賺得多,在於成本多花在材料與人工上,靈活性強,回收快。「冰冰蒟蒻」也看準了這點,標榜只要一百五十萬就可以加盟,而其中包括了設備、店面裝潢、權利金。如此的投資若在夏季有一定的銷售量,快速回收應不是問題。

「冰冰蒟蒻」的策略是以外送為主,店面多選在商、辦交錯的地區。到目前為止,「冰冰蒟蒻」有近五十家加盟店,預計明年四月以前會成長到二百家。其中由於中央廚房設在五股,無法供應南部遠距離的需要,因此一旦南部確定設點後,會再設另一中央廚房,屆時展店將更為快速。

「冰冰蒟蒻」的冰品打的是健康養生、清涼可口的賣點。主要產品蒟蒻是日本新興的減肥食品,配料方面則包含各種傳統銼冰的榖類,如清毒降火的綠豆、補血滋養的紅豆、促進新陳代謝的薏仁等,消費者選擇所需,就是一杯簡單又養生的食品。而為了避免「冰」所可能引起的衛生問題,並符合中醫少直接吃冰的說法,號稱「冰冰」的「冰冰蒟蒻」卻只有冷藏,不加冰塊。

「一杯三十五塊,上班族女性不必頂大太陽出門就可以外送健康的減肥食品當午餐,」郭淨溢說,他們已經找到了正確的路。

風氣使然,「水果冰」與「養生冰」是這一波冰品大戰的主軸,經營方式也還是以加盟為主。「冰冰蒟蒻」號稱一百五十萬加盟即可穩操勝算,但也有年輕族群以十五萬就準備大舉投入經營連鎖,目標也是養生的「活力元素冰」。

曾獲一九九八年中華民國小姐第二名的高御書,八月中旬即將在台中開第一家「生化超美少女活力養生冰」。頂著中山醫學院生物科技研究所碩士的頭銜,她的養生冰以楓糖調味,並有特殊配方,含多種微量元素,可以代替三餐,同時活力又養生。

賣得長久,吃得安心

然而天氣雖然越來越熱,台灣卻仍有四季之分。今夏所引發的冰品競逐霸業誰是贏家,仍得看誰度得過寒冬的考驗,方能定案。

大部分的連鎖商店都已注意到這一點,畢竟冰品能在寒冬中如永康街草莓冰大賣的仍是異數,冬天是否有替代方案才是完全之計。

已經歷過一個冬天的「冰冰蒟蒻」,雖說所有產品冬天時都可以推出同樣材料的熱食,但生意仍只有夏季的一半。「我們對熱湯市場並不樂觀,所以做法是,如果四月到九月間能賺錢,接下來的部分只要打平即可,」郭淨溢說。

然而許多人的野心不只於此,標榜擁有高級藥材燕窩、雪蛤等熱食的許留山就準備在冬季一展長才。而同樣也在永康街發跡的「清宮御廚」也是標榜夏冬都可以吃到美味甜湯,不僅已建立口碑,並為元祖食品相中,準備大舉展店,全年通吃。看來,今年冬天的「甜湯大戰」絕對熱鬧可期。

但不管養生也罷,可口也罷,新興的冰品連鎖加上早就開滿全國大街小巷的「快可利」、「五百小站」等涼水連鎖,讓人想不來一杯都難,然而大啖冰品的同時,還是得記得中醫師的叮嚀。

中醫師何宗憲就表示,夏日炎炎,吃冰消暑並無不可,但體質偏冷的人,冰與水果還是少碰為妙。而即使身體健康,吃冰時也得慢用,因為吃得太快將影響到血液的循環。

至於今夏最熱門的芒果,乃屬燥熱的水果,切忌一次多食,台灣民間普遍就有芒果吃太多容易長瘡的說法。

冰品市場打得火熱,誰都想在不景氣中獨占鰲頭,但不管市場如何熱戰,消費者一碗冰在手,清涼沁脾,炎炎夏日很快就過了一半。

p.043

永康街「冰館」不分四季門庭若市,也掀起了今夏「五胡亂華」般的冰品大戰。

p.044

永康街「冰館」不分季節日日大排長龍,座位更是一位難求,許多人乾脆陽光底下站著就吃將起來。(薛繼光攝)

p.045

「冰館」老闆羅同邑的芒果冰甜中帶酸,頗似愛情滋味,現已成為台灣現代都會傳奇。(薛繼光攝)

p.046

「許留山」號稱「香港傳奇」,店面裝潢港味十足。

p.046

各類高級藥材為主的甜湯是許留山的招牌。

p.047

吃「芒果撈}」得由師傅現「炒」。圖為師傅炒冰手腕使力的情形。

p.048

「冰冰蒟蒻」由日本引進蒟蒻(下),是減肥清腸的「健康冰品」招牌,大受消費者歡迎。連小朋友都喜歡在炎炎夏日來一杯(上)。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Taiwan's New Ice Age

Eric Lin /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell

Bing (iced treats) hold a special place in Taiwan's culinary culture, with cuabing (shaved ice) being the king of summertime chillers. Other noteworthy discoveries of our ancestors include cool and squeezably soft gelatins made with aiyu (jelly-fig seeds) or xiancao herb. A plate of aiyu or xiancao gelatin, covered in crystalline shaved ice, and then topped off with fruit, sweets, or syrup-it's heavenly! No wonder there is an old Taiwanese saying describing the most profitable professions which goes: "First, become a doctor; second, sell bing; third, open a brothel."

Everybody knows that ice sells. Now with global warming stretching out summers longer and longer and the economy beginning to heat up again, consumers are coming out of hibernation, and this year Taiwan's bing market has become intensely competitive.


Talking about the ice wars that have spread across Taiwan at anything but a glacial pace this summer, Kuo Ching-i of Chen Shan Mei Food Products, which runs the Ice Ice chain of bing shops, draws a metaphor from ancient history: "It's like the barbarian invasions of China!"

Kuo prefers this parallel over the "Warring States Period" because there is a definite non-native element to this struggle. For example, Hui Lau Shan features Hong Kong-style "sweet soup," introducing to Taiwan the Hong Kong concepts of elaborate decor and bing products with ingredients from Chinese medicine. Ice Ice, combining konjac from Japan (widely used in a flour form and in gelatin candies, for example) with old-fashioned Taiwanese-style "sweet soup," offers up bing that are meals in themselves, and are said to be ideal for those trying to lose weight.

Of course let us not forget the local contenders. Ice Monster, the famous shop on Taipei's Yungkang Street, virtually single-handedly launched the mango bing fad that has swept the country so thoroughly that any bing shop, whatever its specialty, that fails to have mango bing on the menu is definitely "uncool." Meanwhile, there are several new chains owned by media personalities. This is indeed a heady mix of local and foreign, traditional and modern. In the last two years alone, at least a dozen new bing chain stores have opened, and that only counts the ones that have featured prominently in the media!

According to a survey conducted by the famous Hong Kong bing chain Hui Lau Shan, Taiwan loves iced treats more than any other Asian country. Just check out the streets of Taipei and you'll see.

When you go along Yungkang Street, renowned for its many eateries, you'll discover that there are two places where there are long lines continuously from morning till night. One is Ding Tai Fong, which has been one of Taipei's premier restaurants for many years, and serves Northern Chinese cuisine. The other, rather unexpectedly, is a place that has scratched its way up only in the last few years: Ice Monster.

It's especially amazing that whereas you would expect Ding Tai Fong to be unaffected by the changing seasons, and have long lines all year-round, over the last couple of years the same thing has been happening at Ice Monster. It used to be that there was only a market for bing in summer, but now even when cold fronts sweep across the city, you can still find people lined up around the block.

Ice Monster has created the two amazing miracles of summertime mango bing and wintertime strawberry bing. In only two or three short years, shaved-ice houses which somehow fit the Chinese characters for Ice Monster into their names have sprung up all over the country, some even using signs of exactly the same color and design. This extreme demonstration of the "swarm effect" is enough to send chills up your spine.

The legend of mango bing

When you mention the "legend of mango bing," Ice Monster owner Luo Tung-yi modestly says that it has all been a matter of luck.

Seven years ago, recalls Luo, about the only choices for an ambitious young person in Taiwan society were to go into high-tech fields like semiconductors or otherwise to find some traditional business in which one could "make a breakthrough." So he rented a storefront on Yungkang Street and began selling bing.

At the beginning, his menu was about the same as a traditional bing shop, and it proved to be a failure. Luo ran losses for three straight years, until finally he decided he had no choice but to allow someone else to take over the storefront. However, one night just as he was in the process of closing up the shop, some customers came and asked for some shaved-ice treats. Because he had already put all his ingredients away, all he had in hand was a bag of mangoes that he had coincidentally just bought. He asked them if a mango bing would be okay.

Totally unexpectedly, doing no advertising whatsoever, within a month his store was packed with customers, and he quickly recovered all his losses, even his original investment.

Now the Yungkang Street Ice Monster gets 3000 customers on a typical day, one-third of them Japanese tourists. And the prices are by no means cheap: One mango bing costs more than NT$100. What is so special to justify this price?

Luo Tung-yi says that it is simple: You have to know fruit and also fruit-harvesting seasons so that your ingredients are fresh, and you have to have the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

But these tricks of the trade are not nearly as easy as they sound. Someone has to control the flow volume of fresh fruit throughout the day. You can't peel too many at once, because after fruit is cut it turns bad quickly. In order to time purchases correctly, it is necessary to keep an eye on mango production in southern Taiwan. For example, normally the first mango crop from Tainan is immediately followed by the one from Pingtung County. But this year the latter was a few days late, creating tremendous headaches for Luo Tung-yi as he tried to figure out where he could get the best fruit.

As for controlling tartness and sweetness, Luo Tung-yi thinks that the key to delicious fruit is in the acidity. Totally sweet mangoes get boring quickly. Therefore, when he brews up his mango bing sauce, he's especially careful not to let the tartness escape.

Most people might think that if you want to make big money, you should go into franchising. Especially now that Ice Monster's business has fallen off by five percent because of the stiff competition, isn't it a pity not to expand? Yet this is not at all the way that Luo Tung-yi thinks. He feels that his success has been entirely a matter of good luck, and he would rather focus on doing well what he does now than going for the big money.

"If one day someone eats here and thinks it's bad, then that customer is lost forever," says Luo Tung-yi. He doesn't believe that the typical "central kitchens" of franchise operations can reach the high standards he sets. It will be enough for him to "transfer technology" to a few carefully screened nationwide chains. "I would rather devote my energy to coming up with even more tasty fruit bing," he explains.

Ice in their veins

Luo Tung-yi is rather old-fashioned. But the story is very different over at Hui Lau Shan, which calls itself "the original ancestral home of the mango bing." They estimate that they will have 100 stores open by 2003.

Hui Lau Shan got its start back in the 1950s in Hong Kong, where there are now 55 shops. Its fresh fruit sago (similar to tapioca), launched in 1993, rocketed to popularity, just like mango bing in Taiwan.

In fact, Hui Lau Shan was first brought to Taiwan eight years ago. But its high prices and Hong Kong flavors proved unacceptable to most people at the time; after only a brief period the franchise ended up on the rocks. In its current incursion into Taiwan, the company is succeeding not only because of new products which have proven to be a hit in Hong Kong, but even more because of investment from a large Taiwan conglomerate.

Like many Western chains, Hui Lau Shan has adopted the tack of bringing its original model to Taiwan lock, stock, and barrel, and moreover directly operates all stores itself, in order to protect its technology from piracy and ensure a uniform standard of quality.

It's not only the taste that is Hong Kong; so are the decor and the names of the foods. Inside the large palace-style red doors, the menu lists numerous lu and shuang. It's hard for a native of Taiwan to read the menu, and you only know what a lot of the dishes are by asking the staff. It turns out that lu means sago, while shuang is a term that refers to a drink-like concoction made with fruit, juice, and jelly. The exotic ambience and interesting names really whet the appetite.

Hui Lau Shan specializes in Hong Kong-style "sweet soup." It is supposed to be healthful, being made with expensive ingredients used in Chinese medicine like sparrow's nest and harsmar. Different flavors are created by mixing in different kinds of sago and fruit.

Hui Lau Shan's products can be divided into four major categories. The first type, luye, is made by pouring fresh mango juice and crushed ice onto a super-cold (-18°C) pan, and then stirring the mixture like food being heated in a wok. Staff have to carefully control the time, speed, and intensity of the stirring; too slow and the mixture begins to freeze, too fast and it becomes too thick, instead of having a spongy texture. Luye is served in a shallow bowl, and topped with fresh fruit and ice cubes; the result is a luxurious, visually pleasing icy treat.

Shuang are made by layering gelatin, fruit or fruit juice, and sago in a clear plastic cup. As you imbibe the concoction through a wide straw, different textures and flavors unfold in your mouth. First-timers invariably find the sensation to be delightful. The ordinary sago and boiled products, meanwhile, are made the usual way, with variations depending upon the combinations of ingredients used.

On the cutting edge

The mango bing is the main attraction at both the Ice Monster and Hui Lau Shan, but the taste is very different. The Ice Monster's mangoes are sweet, but carry a tart kick, while Hui Lau Shan favors sweetness through and through.

Celine Huang, general manager for development at Hui Lau Shan says: "Like other shops, in summer we use Taiwan-grown mangoes, but the difference is that we insist that they are really sweet." When winter comes, they import Southeast Asian mangoes, which are even sweeter.

The mango bing fad in which Ice Monster and Hui Lau Shan are the leading players might be seen as a war, but that is not the metaphor preferred by Samuel Chen. Chen, the boss at Royal Sweets, says rather that these two operations are the pickets in the first skirmishes of the import fruit wars that are a consequence of Taiwan's entry into the WTO.

The recent upsurge in bing shops has created tremendous overlap: After all, almost all of these places just offer variations on the same themes of processed fruit. And another thing they have in common is that they are not cheap-a plate of mango bing costs as much as NT$100 or more. Many people are beginning to wonder: Will mango bing turn out to be another "flash in the pan" like Portuguese egg tarts?

Ice Monster boss Luo Tung-yi is not worried, because, unlike egg tarts, there has always been a market for shaved-ice treats in Taiwan. But he does hope that next year things will cool down a bit, and that the different shops will develop their own bing styles, rather than taking chips off the same old block.

More bing for the buck

An interesting aspect of the mango bing phenomenon is that people from the world of entertainment, who have always been avid investors in restaurants and food products, are likewise going in for ice in a big way, but in this case they are opting for traditional tastes. Examples include Ice Ice, founded jointly by TV star Pai Ping-ping and Chen Wei-hsiang of Dashin Music; Auntie's Old-Fashioned Bing, started by producer Chou You; and Hsu Hsiao-shun's Fuchow Uncle's Sour Treats. All feature traditional chilled or shaved-iced products. Of these, the person getting the most attention-the same one who struck out in his attempt to bring Hui Lau Shan to Taiwan eight years ago-is Chen Wei-hsiang.

"Chairman Chen Wei-hsiang learned a great deal from the failure of Hui Lau Shan eight years ago," says Kuo Ching-yi. Taiwan has a rich cuabing culture, and while non-native iced treats might attract a great deal of consumer curiosity at first, high prices pose a serious barrier that must be overcome in order to sustain operations over the long haul.

"Shaved-ice treats are considered ordinary food by Taiwanese, so the trick to maintaining a chain over the long term is low prices and localized tastes with a little added variation," says Kuo. Kuo explains that Ice Ice has adopted a policy of low prices, narrow profit margins, and high volume, and this, combined with having entertainer Pai Ping-ping, one of the shareholders, as spokesperson, allowed the chain to become an instant sensation as soon as it was launched last year.

There are few barriers to entry for selling bing. Most of the costs are in materials and labor, and little in fixed capital, so there is great flexibility and you get rapid returns. Ice Ice recognizes this, and sells franchise rights for a mere NT$1.5 million, which includes equipment, decor, and royalties. If a shop can maintain a certain level of sales in the summer, then it should be no problem to earn back the investment.

Most of the sales at Ice Ice shops are for delivered orders. Most outlets are in mixed commercial-and-office districts. There are presently nearly 50 franchises, and the number is expected to rise to 200 by next April. Because the central kitchen is in Wuku in Taipei County, which is too far away to serve southern Taiwan, once a southern central kitchen is established, the number of shops could grow even more quickly.

Ice Ice has adopted the selling point that its products are healthful, refreshing, and delicious. The main offering, konjac, is a new weight-reducing product from Japan. The accompanying ingredients include various traditional cuabing grains, like mung beans (said to "eliminate toxins" and "relieve summer-heat" according to theories of traditional Chinese medicine), kidney beans (to "supplement the blood" and "promote nutrition") and coix seed (to "remove heat" and "promote metabolism"). Consumers can choose a simple and nutritious treat to match their needs. In order to avoid the sanitary problems that can arise from impurities in the water used to make ice, and to conform to the precept of Chinese medicine that one should directly consume ice as little as possible, the products at Ice Ice are only refrigerated, and no ice is used.

"A woman working in an office doesn't have to expose herself to the summer sun, and for NT$35 a glass can have a healthy weight-reducing drink delivered for her lunch." Kuo Ching-i feels they are definitely on the right track.

"Fruit bing" and "nutritious bing" are the two main fronts in the shaved-ice wars, with franchising being the main operational model. Ice Ice says that you can figure on a steady profit at NT$1.5 million per franchise. But there are also people who are planning to start a "nutritious bing" chain at NT$150,000 per franchise.

Kao Yu-shu, who finished second in the 1998 Miss ROC pageant and holds an MA from the graduate school of biotechnology at Chungshan Medical University, will open her first shop in Tai-chung in mid-August. Her iced products will be made using maple syrup and other special ingredients, including many micronutrients. They can be taken as substitutes for all three meals, providing energy and nutrition.

Live long and prosper

However, even if the global climate is warming, Taiwan still has four seasons. The only way to tell the real winner of this summer's bing explosion will be to see who survives the chill of winter.

Most chain stores are well aware of this fact. It is still unknown whether their products will sell as well in winter as does the strawberry bing on Yungkang Street. The key will be whether they have some alternative plan for coping with winter.

Ice Ice has already weathered one winter. Their experience was that, despite making hot versions of all their products available, business was still only half of what it was in summer. "We are not very optimistic about the hot drinks market, so our approach is that as long as we are making a profit from April to September, then we only look to break even for the rest of the year," says Kuo Ching-i.

But many people are more ambitious than that. Hui Lau Shan, which prominently features hot foods using high-grade Chinese medicines like sparrow's nest and harsmar, is prepared to make the most of winter. Royal Sweets, which like Ice Monster got its start on Yungkang Street, advertises its sweet soup as being suited for both summer and winter. It is going into business with the Ganso food products conglomerate to open shops that will hopefully do well all year round. It appears that we can expect a serious "sweet soup war" to break out this winter.

But no matter whether we are talking nutritious or delicious, when you add all the new bing shops to the existing chains of iced tea stands, there is an omnipresent temptation to "chill out." So it is best to keep in mind the advice of Ho Tsung-hsien, a doctor of Chinese medicine. Ho says that while it is not impermissible to imbibe cold drinks to counteract the summer heat, those whose bodies tend to be "cold" are best off minimizing their intake of ice and fruit. Even those in good health must take their time when consuming cold foods. This summer's hottest ice treat, mango bing, is categorized as a "dry-heat" fruit, so it is best not to eat too much at a single sitting.

All bing shops are hoping, during this economic downturn, to make hay while the sun shines. But no matter how hot the battle for market share gets, consumers with a bing in hand can just chill out, and the summer heat will pass by unnoticed.

p.043

Ice Monster on Yungkang Street is jammed with customers all year round, setting off a ferocious battle over the bing market that has been likened to the ancient period of chaos sparked by a barbarian invasion of China.

p.044

At Ice Monster on Yungkang Street it's invariably hard to find a seat. A lot of people just stand in the sun to chow down. (photo by Hsueh Chi-kuang)

p.045

The mango bing created by Ice Monster boss Luo Tung-yi is a lot like love: sweet with a tart kick. It has become a contemporary Taiwan legend. (photo by Hsueh Chi-kuang)

p.046

Hui Lau Shan is a famous chain from Hong Kong; even the decor has a very Hong Kong feel to it.

p.046

Hui Lau Shan features "sweet soup" with Chinese medicinal ingredients.

p.047

Making a good "mango luye" requires an expert touch. The photo shows the cook demonstrating the right stirring technique.

p.048

Ice Ice uses konjac (below), a weight-reducing product imported from Japan, to make its "healthy bing products" that are so popular with consumers. Even kids love them (above).

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!