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Dandy Don’s in China

By Enrique Rivero
Daily News Staff Writer
Saturday, August 23, 1997

Valley ice cream maker scoops out California lifestyle in China

The Golden State, it turns out, is a golden marketing tool for American businesses in China. At least that’s the lesson learned from the success of Van Nuys-based Dandy Don’s HomeMade Ice Cream in Guangdong province (formerly Canton) in southern China.

The California-inspired promotion, the brainchild of California businessman David Tong, seems to be working. In about three years, 13 Dandy Don’s American IceCream franchises have been sold in the province, one of the wealthiest in China.

If you tried to promote American products and use New York, do you think it would work? asked Tong rhetorically.

Dandy Don owner Don Whittemore, who licensed his company’s name and formula to Hong Kong-based concern Bofon International Development Holdings Ltd., said he quickly recognized China as a, well, dandy market to expand.

We, as a people, have no real concept of what’s happening in China and how China is growing so quickly and modernizing itself, he said.

Why is the California lifestyle so fascinating to the Chinese? The country’s isolation during its decades of Communist rule has a lot to do with it, according to Tong.

Now, as the country’s government has loosened, the Chinese have gotten more exposure through television to what lies beyond their borders, and a taste for what’s across the Pacific Ocean.

California is the only thing they really care about, said Joseph Frohlinger, publisher of Frohlinger’s Marketing Report. They visualize the beaches, the sunsets, the Baywatch babes. They want to be like Mike; they want a piece of the culture.

Frohlinger expects more companies to use the Golden State’s image to promote their products in China. It’s a very easy way to grab someone’s attention, he said. By capturing the California lifestyle, you’re capturing what’s fun about America.

Tong was first approached by Bofon in mid-1993 to obtain the franchise to the Baskin-Robbins name. But it had already been taken and, besides, Tong believed a big chain would impose too many limitations on how the ice cream was produced and marketed.

So I suggested a smaller company willing to teach us to make ice cream and do it in China, Tong said. By coincidence, a few weeks earlier Tong had happened to meet Whittemore at a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser.

The Dandy Don name had another built-in selling point: unlike some major names like Haagen-Dazs, the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations of Dandy Don are close to the English-language original. You have to find a name that’s easy to pronounce, Tong said.

But image was perhaps the most important element in marketing the product, and Tong seized on the California theme because it was different from the way other ice creams we marketed.

California lifestyle is easier to imagine, to accept, he said. The weather is always good, it’s sunny – it goes with ice cream.

You are tasting the California sunshine. That’s what we say in our promotions.

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