Beijing bun chain steamed in brand kerfuffle

CHINA - A steamed-bun shop in Beijing, which made headlines in December when President Xi Jinping tasted its offerings in a surprise visit, is considering legal action after it discovered that buns are being sold under its name without its permission.

Qing Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop announced its intention to protect its brand after it discovered buns it sold to a theme park in Changsha, Hunan province, were resold to customers under the brand name of Qing Feng.

Changsha Window of the World, a theme park, bought 5,000 cooked buns from a branch of the Qing Feng company on Jan 22 and sold them in a temple fair it organised on Jan 31 at a price of 5 yuan (S$1) each.

The average price of a Qing Feng bun is about 1 yuan each. The bun Xi ordered, for example, which is stuffed with pork and green onions, costs 3.5 yuan for three.

While Qing Feng buns got nationwide publicity after Xi's visit, the company has no plans to expand its business to areas outside Beijing this year.

"When the company ordered the buns from our branch, they didn't tell us that they would sell the buns under the name of our company," said Zhu Yuling, general manager of the restaurant chain's holding company, Beijing Huatian Restaurant Group.

At the fair, the buns were advertised on a large display reading, "Qing Feng steamed buns have arrived".

Zhu said the Changsha company ignored three warnings issued by Qing Feng since Jan 25.

"They bought the buns on Jan 22 and started to sell them on Jan 31. The flavor of the buns could not be guaranteed after such a long time," Zhu said, adding that this will harm the brand.

The Changsha company used the "Qing Feng buns" slogan in their commercial activity and also used the registered trademark of Qing Feng in packaging, tableware and signboards, said Li Changgui, a legal adviser to Qing Feng, at a news conference on Wednesday.

Zhu said his company has evidence of copyright infringement and will resort to legal action if the Changsha company refuses to acknowledge the breach of copyright.

Qing Feng buns were registered with the national trademark office in 1998 and in 2010 were declared a Famous Beijing Trademark by commercial authorities in the capital.

The Changsha company said in a statement posted on its official micro blog that it did not declare or suggest it was acting in cooperation with Qing Feng on any occasion.

The statement also said the buns it sold were from a branch of Qing Feng and it adhered to all aspects of the supply agreement.

The company also denied that it marked up the price unfairly. They said that freight charges work out to about 3.25 yuan per bun.

The statement also said Qing Feng's internal communications between various branches was at fault.

A spokesman for the Changsha company declined to comment further and referred to the statement when contacted on Thursday.

No new shops

Qing Feng branches now have to report to headquarters first before they sell large quantities of buns to customers, Zhu said.

Qing Feng has 180 shops in Beijing and three in Yanjiao, Hebei province. New outlets will only be opened outside Beijing if the quality of the ingredients and recipe can be guaranteed," Zhu said. "Otherwise, it's irresponsible to our customers."

Zhu said the company has organised a special team to monitor quality, and those shops that fail to reach specified standards would be shut down.

The president visited a branch on Yuetan North Street in Xicheng district in December. He lined up to order his food and then sat down to eat it with other customers. The company's daily sales have risen by up to 40 per cent since the visit.

Zhu said he received many calls from potential business partners asking whether they could join his group and how they could become partners.

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